My dear young friends,
Today I am invoking your youth, your anger, your honesty and your conscience.
My voice is the voice of silence, fear, humiliation, suffocation, and tears that many of you have felt inside you. This helplessness is haunting your countless brothers and sisters. In our great land, two children are sexually abused everyday. Every 8 minutes, a child is stolen and sometimes sold at a price even less than that of animals. I ask you, can anyone’s innocence, smile, beauty, and body be only an object of sexual pleasure?
I have declared war on rape, sexual abuse, trafficking, and violence against children. I am marching to end this moral epidemic, that is destroying the spirit of your generation. This march, the Bharat Yatra, starts from Kanyakumari on 11 September, 2017 and will culminate in Delhi on 16 October. But the war against these evils will continue till we win.
Friends, in this great war, I am knocking on the doors of governments, faith leaders, corporates and NGOs. But it is in you that I have the utmost faith. This is because I trust your honesty and the anger burning within you.
In Delhi, a 12-year-old girl pleaded with her father one night: "Daddy, please leave me tonight. My whole body in in pain." Is this not enough to shake the heavens and the earth?
Recently a young school going girl was gang raped and murdered near Shimla. Her devastated father cried and told me “I pray to God that no one goes through what I have. When I picked up the naked dead body of my daughter, each and every part of her body was bitten and chewed by those perverted men who were no less than wolves.” Are these words not enough to bring any civilisation and culture to shame?
In Mumbai, a rich and well-educated mother of a child whose son committed suicide cried, “How could I not understand that my son was going through sexual abuse for months?” Is this not a slap on a society that is running a race to become advanced at the cost of its children?
Our children are not safe anywhere: not in their own homes, not in their neighbourhoods and not even in their schools. Anyone — a friend, relative, teacher, driver, doctor and even a police officer — can turn into a predator.
In the name of family, honour, and shame, the voices of victims are suppressed at every point. We are so sick that we think that the girl, who has been a victim of sexual assault, becomes a “disgrace” or “loses her dignity forever”.
I refuse to accept that any victim of rape or sexual abuse has ever lost her dignity. It is rather the rapist or the assaulter who has lost his dignity. He must be punished by law and socially boycotted. I refuse to accept that the victims of abuse will keep living in fear only because of a silent society, incompetent law enforcement and false notions of family pride, whilst the abusers and rapists roam free and fearless.
Friends, I am sure that your blood will boil after reading this and your emotions will be like a storm of revolt against this evil. I also know that your inner compassion and idealism will provoke you to think of mother India, beyond your studies and careers. We need to channelise our anger into positive ideas and constructive action.
Do remember: it was you who had turned the streets of Delhi into nonviolent war grounds during the heart-wrenching Nirbhaya case. That had resulted in strong laws. Recently it was the power of the youth in Himachal that demanded a CBI investigation of the rape and murder case of Gudiya, thus opening doors of justice for her and her family.
Do remember: that no golden page of history has ever been written without the signatures of youth on it. No freedom, justice, and development has ever been achieved without the sacrifices of the youth.
Then why are you still hero worshipping the film stars, the god-men, the sports icons and celebrities, as if they were your idols? Some are definitely inspirational. But the real hero resides within you. Gather all your courage today and throw away your passivity and pessimism. Don't look up to others, because you are the change. Feel the change that is knocking at your door today.
Thirty-seven years ago, when I quit my job as an engineer to launch a movement against child labour and slavery, my widowed mother cried for years. I didn’t have money, security, or support. She was the wife of an ordinary policeman who had sold her ornaments to pay my college fees.
I was alone then and yet I refused to accept that children will continue to be slaves. Today, I am fortunate that you all are with me. And it is my faith in your passion and power that has encouraged me to march with renewed vigour to free India from sexual abuse, rapes, trafficking and violence.
So come my dear friends, let us march together to bend the arc of history.
Kailash Satyarthi is a child rights and education advocate, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Join his nationwide march to end sexual abuse and trafficking of children. Take the pledge here.
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