Telling voices Friday Review

How he got his name

Kailash Satyarthi. Photo: S. Subramanium  

“When I was 11, seeing some of my friends leaving school because their parents could not afford textbooks made me angry. When I was 27, hearing the plight of a desperate slave father whose daughter was about to be sold to a brothel made me angry. At the age of 50, lying on the street, in a pool of blood, along with my own son, made me angry… for centuries we were taught anger is bad. Our parents, teachers, priests –– everyone taught us how to control and suppress our anger. But I ask why? Why can’t we convert our anger for the larger good of society? Why can’t we use our anger to challenge and change the evils of the world? That I tried to do,” says Kailash Satyarthi on TED talks and begins to tell his story.

The recipient of the Nobel Peace Award says, “I had been a big admirer of Mahatma Gandhi since my childhood. Gandhi fought and led India’s freedom movement — when I was 15 –– an idea came to my mind. I was very impressed with the leaders of my town who were speaking very highly against the caste system and untouchability and talking of Gandhian ideals. So, inspired by that…I went to some low-caste, so-called untouchable, people, tried to convince them…” Satyarthi wanted them to cook and invite the leaders of the village to partake of the food.

Continues Satyarthi, “They said, ‘No, no. It’s not possible. It has never happened.’ My friends and I took our bicycles and went to invite political leaders. And I was so thrilled, rather, empowered to see that each one of them agreed to come. I thought, ‘Great idea. We can set an example. We can bring about change in the society. The day has come.’ All these untouchables, three women and two men, they agreed to come. I could recall that they had used the best of their clothes. They brought new utensils. They had taken baths hundreds of times because it was unthinkable for them to cook for people of the higher caste… It was the moment of change. They gathered. Food was cooked. It was 7 o’clock…8 o’clock, we kept on waiting, because it is not very uncommon that the leaders become late, for an hour or so. After 8 o’clock, we went to these leaders’ homes, just to remind them. One of the leader’s wives told me, ‘Sorry, he is having some headache, perhaps he cannot come.’ I went to another leader and his wife told me, ‘Okay, you go, he will definitely join.’ So I thought that the dinner will take place, though not at that large a scale….but none of the leaders showed up.”

Satyarthi partook of the food. “I came back home, a little after midnight, shocked to see that several high-caste elderly people were sitting in my courtyard. I saw my mother and elderly women were crying and they were pleading to these elderly people because they had threatened to outcaste my whole family. Somehow they agreed to punish only me, and the punishment was purification. That means I had to go to the river Ganges to take a holy dip. And after that, I should organize a feast for priests, 101 priests, wash their feet and drink that water. It was total nonsense, and I refused to accept that punishment.”

Satyarthi continues to say they did punish him, “I was barred from entering into my own kitchen and my own dining room, my utensils were separated…the night when I was angry, they wanted to outcaste me. But I decided to outcaste the entire caste system…And that was possible. The beginning would have been to change the family name, or surname, because in India, most of the family names are caste names. So I decided to drop my name. And then, later on, I gave a new name to myself: Satyarthi, that means, ‘seeker of truth’.”

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 7:30:28 AM |

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