The power of the freedom movement has had an immense bearing on the life of Shrimati Sumedha Kailash. Her grandfather Shri Gaya Prasad Shukla was an active associate in the Kakori case with Chandra Shekhar Azad.
It was apparent for Smt. Sumedha Kailash to be a social transformer. She was born in Lucknow on 10th May 1955. 10th of May is the day when India's first freedom struggle started in 1857. The day's impact is clearly evident as 11-year old girl, Sumedha, went to jail for being part of the movement against the killing of cows.
Her father's name is Mahatma Ved Bhikshu and mother's name is Pandita Rakesh Rani. Mahatma Ved Bhikshu was a frontrunner in the Arya Samaj movement and he started the renowned Dayanand Sansthan. Smt. Sumedha grew up under the influence of the freedom movement and inculcated deep-rooted and strong values. She graduated from the Delhi University and gained her post-graduation from the Merrut University.
She has been a vital force in the organisation called Bachpan Bachao Andolan, which has been working to end child labour for the last 25 years. As a social mobiliser, she has taken the lead in all the awareness generation Marches of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, be it from Nagar Uttari to Delhi March or Patna to Kathmandu March or Kanyakumari to Delhi march, be it the Global March Against Child Labour in 103 countries and last but not the least South Asian March Against Child Trafficking.
Presently, she is residing in Delhi at 73, Aravali Apartments, Alaknanda, New Delhi-19, Ph.: +91-11-26480254. She can be reached in Bal Ashram, Virat Nagar, Jaipur, Rajasthan Ph.: +91-1422-234095.
AS A CHANGEMAKER
Smt. Sumedha Kailash is at the helm of successfully running a transit rehabilitation center, Bal Ashram, offering vocational-cum-educational training to former child labourers. Bal Ashram is located in Viratnagar near Jaipur. The center was started in 1998 and more than 1000 children have been rehabilitated so far. These children were mostly bonded labourers working in brick kilns, carpet weaving, stone quarries, agriculture etc, coming from the northern states of Uttarpradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Most of them belong to the minorities section of the society, and come from the rural areas.
Being intensely associated with the issues of ending child labour and getting education for all, she has made the rehabilitation centre into a model to be emulated by others. The rehabilitation centre specifically addresses the mental trauma, hardship and the deep agony that the rescued children have gone through and helps to develop their self-confidence and courage through basic education, social education, value inculcation cultural and vocational training. All efforts are made to mainstream the children into formal school and prepare them to integrate well with the society.
The economic development of the children who will pass out is taken care by imparting vocational training to all the boys above 13 years of age in Carpentry, Tailoring, Welding, Motor Winding, Screen Printing, Painting, Organic Farming and kitchen gardening. The vocation is chosen keeping in mind their interest in a particular trade and the locally available possibilities of generating incomes for their sustenance.
Bal Ashram, under the stewardship of Smt. Sumedha Kailash, has had immense positive impact on surrounding communities and will continue to have.
Smt. Sumedha Kailash has been instrumental in extending tremendous influence on the neighbouring villages through the implementation of model child friendly villages in the vicinity, which aims at the elimination of child labour, their enrolment into schools through active community participation, the establishment of Children's parliaments and its recognition by the adult panchayat and then solving the problems highlighted by children. Children not only raise issues that concern them directly, say in schools, but also bring to light many social evils like alcohol abuse, child marriage and others.
The first 'Bal Mitra Gram' (Child Friendly Village) was formed in Papri village near the Ashram. The success of Papri inspired the other neighbouring villages to adopt the concept of BMG and now the Viratnagar block is on the road to be declared the first Child Labour Free block in Rajasthan. The numbers of benefiting villages, which have adopted the BMG concept in Rajasthan, are 25
The success of the first BMG triggered a ripple action and many villages in the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh have under the guidance of Smt. Sumedha Kailash, as the Director of BMG, are the practicising the principles of BMG and ensuring that every child gets education. The numbers of villages affected by it are over 130.
As a Mass Mobilizer
The rehabilitation centre is not just an education institute but also second home for the children. This was only possible because for the love and care given by Smt. Sumedha Kailash. She encourages children to participate in demonstrations, rallies and marches highlighting social problems prevailing in the local area. The children are made aware of their rights and given adequate information and support to design campaigns. The purpose is to make them empowered citizens to fight for their rights as well as for others who are in bondage and exploitation.
Various superstitious practices in Rajasthan have been institutionalized to an extent that the girl child and women suffer the most with multiple sociological and psychological impacts due to the evils of female infanticide, child marriage, illiteracy, lack of health facilities and other factors. Smt. Sumedha Kailash has played a vital role in women's in social awareness and empowerment programme in Alwar, Jaipur, Ajmer and Bhilwada districts. She has been an enabling factor in organising various workshops/orientation programmes for capacity building and empowerment of local women on the issue of gender, health and women's rights to make them stand up against exploitation and social evils. Many of the women have now joined the elected village board of panchayats (local self-governance).
She has inculcated preventive health care among the women by spreading the message of health and hygiene, proper nutrition, etc. among the villagers especially girls and women. She has also helped the woman to come together to form self-help groups in more than 20 villages encouraging economic empowerment & spirit of entrepreneurship amongst rural women.
Innovative Forms of Community Participation
Smt. Sumedha Kailash, with her dynamic actions and spirit has been a powerful force in mobilizing the community. The villagers adopted a unique way to show their commitment to end child labour by organising a 'Yagna' to eliminate child labour. The first Yagna' was performed in village Sothana and was soon followed by other villages of Viratnagar block.
Seeing the strong belief of the villagers in the old form of medicines and their non-acceptance to the modern medicines, Smt. Sumedha Kailash decided to set-up health camps which had Ayurved practioners in it and this made the villagers came forward to discuss their ailments. The rural women benefited the most as till then they were reluctant to adopt the allopathic medicines.
Another interesting achievement of community participation is the villagers taking the responsibility of setting up tubewells. Smt. Sumedha Kailash, seeing the scarcity of safe drinking water in the villages of Viratnagar, made the villagers fight for their rights for safe drinking water from the administration. As the villagers faced the callous attitude of the administration, being empowered now, they decided to set-up tubewells in their villages on their own so that they have a steady availability of safe water. 10 such villages have benefited and others are also being inspired to follow suit
She has also been Involved in the formation of cultural groups of former bonded labourers in about 250 villages in Rajasthan to multiply the impact of 'Mukti Carvan' the Campaign on Wheels to stop the migration of children from villages who end up as child labourers in factories, road-side eateries, mechanics and as domestic workers in urban areas.
She has been Involved in many rescue operations of children, especially girls, trapped as a domestic labour the hidden form of child exploitation. She has taken initiative on many occasions to convince the parents to bring out their children from labour either on their own or through raid and rescue missions from zari factories, bangle making, brick kilns and other exploitative form of child labour.
She has also worked for the rehabilitation of women and girls rescued from the stone quarries in Faridabad district of Haryana and worked for the emancipation of women against the menace of liquor and male atrocities.
She has been in-charge of regularly organising programmes in schools and villages to build awareness on child exploitation particularly on children involved in making fire crackers in Jaipur and Delhi since 1996. It has also provided a platform to sensitise the local community especially the women to raise social issues. Children from the Bal Ashram have been part of the activities of BMG and interacting with villagers and children in the surrounding villages to advocate for a child friendly society.
The exhaustive work undertaken by Smt. Sumedha Kailash has a widespread and long lasting impact. Be it the children who leave the Bal Ashram and carry the torch of learnings to their communities, thus spreading the message of child labour eradication. Or the Bal Mitra Gram, where the villagers take the onus of sustaining the principles of the BMG and ensure that every girl and boy goes to school and the economic development is covered by the entrepreneurship and income generating activities undertaken by the villagers especially women.
As An Activist
Smt Sumedha Kailash has never hesitated to fight against modern slavery. She has been at the forefront in all the raids conducted by BBA. She believes that at the time of rescue what the children need is motherly love and comforting hand to tell them everything will be fine and you are in safe hands.
It has been noticed by the activist that when she start talking to children they feel more comfortable and reveal their most traumatic realities.
She has been actively involved in the marches organized by BBA which were a medium for massive grass root level awareness and advocacy campaign that generates tremendous orientation in favour of a social cause. She has been an inspiration for all the core marchers to enchant slogans and walk on roads in scorching sun. These marches have been used to propagate faith, social awareness and independence struggles. The case against child labor has got enormous support and help by marches through various marches She also walked with the millions of children, mainly child labourers and the common man during the Global March Against Child Labour in 1998 spanning the 4 continents and 80,000 kilometers resulting in the unanimous adoption of a new convention by the ILO, the C182 on ending worst forms of child labour.
She actively organised and participated in the Shilsha Yatra (India Marches for Education) in 2001. Through her advocacy skills she managed to get not only many NGOs, trade unions and teachers unions to participate in the march but also invoked the Rajasthan Government to promise free and compulsory education to be provided to all children in the state.
Recently she has been part of South Asian March Against Child Trafficking The March along the Indo Nepal Bangla border consisted of a physical walk by the core marchers (100 in number) joined by local people while passing through the by-lanes of cities, towns, villages and remote countryside. Approximately 200,000 people were directly affected en route and more than 10,000,000 reached and sensitised through media and other IEC tools. The marchers carried highly informative placards, posters and banners, raise slogans, perform street theatres and plays. They organised street meetings and at least one big rally or mass meeting everyday. She also addressed press conferences besides media documentation accompanied and visiting media personnel. The March, spanning 5000 km and 20-25 days generated awareness, help parents air their views on the problem most importantly build a network of civil society organisations that would carry on the work forward after the March.
A direct impact of the March would be the prevention of trafficking during the course of the March and the subsequently generated awareness within India and South Asian Region would help in prevention of trafficking for forced labour.
She was one of the core marchers and also conducted public meeting to mobilize women and children to participate in the march and strengthen the fight against trafficking.
Recipient of Harmony Award
The changes brought by Smt Sumedha Kailash in the lives of Bal Ashram Children, she was honoured by Ramkrishna Jaidayal Harmony Award for 2000. The award is given by Organisation for Understanding and Fraternity (OUF), which seeks to promote communal harmony and national integration.