Sumedha Kailash has been a social transformer since her early childhood. She was born in Lucknow on 10th May 1955. At age 11, she first turned activist when she was sent to jail for being part of the movement against the killing of cows.
Her father was Mahatma Ved Bhikshu and mother is Pandita Rakesh Rani. Mahatma Ved Bhikshu, frontrunners in the Arya Samaj movement, one of India’s leading activist based movements. 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 28 years. As a social mobiliser, she has taken the lead in all the awareness generation physical 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 the South Asian March Against Child Trafficking in 2007.
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 1200 children have been rehabilitated so far. It is a centre for rescued bonded labourers who are victims of trafficking for forced labour; working in brick kilns, carpet weaving, stone quarries, agriculture etc, coming from the northern states of Uttar Pradesh, 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 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.
Sumedha also conceptualized the unique child friendly village or the Bal Mitra Gram (BMG) programme. A BMG is a village where all the children are withdrawn from work, all are enrolled and retained in school. The children are encouraged to form children’s parliament or al Panchayat, which then gains formal acceptance and recognition from the elected village council, or the Gram Panchayat. The innovation of the concept lies in the fact that the children and the Gram Panchayat work together on all issues related to the children and their development. The BMg is a preventive model against trafficking and child labour at the grassroots level.
The first 'Bal Mitra Gram' (Child Friendly Village) was formed in Papri village near the Bal Ashram. The success of Papri inspired the other neighbouring villages to adopt the concept of BMG and now the entire Viratnagar block is on the road to be declared the first Child Labour Free block in Rajasthan. The number of benefiting villages that has adopted the BMG concept in Rajasthan is over 50. 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 Sumedha Kailash are practicing the principles of BMG and ensuring that every child gets education. So far, over 200 villages have become BMGs affecting over 200,000 people directly.
Under the aegis of BMG activities, various superstitious practices in Rajasthan like gender discrimination female infanticide, child marriage, illiteracy, lack of health facilities and other factors have been attacked and successfully resolved. Sumedha Kailash has played a vital role for social awareness and empowerment of women in Alwar, Jaipur, Ajmer and Bhilwara 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 and encouraging economic empowerment & spirit of entrepreneurship amongst rural women.
The highlight of the BMG model is in community participation and solving problems like water scarcity, lack of educational facilities and other infrastructural problems through mobilizing resources from within the community and thereby solving them.
For the yeomen service done by her, Sumedha Kailash was honoured by Ramkrishna Jaidayal Harmony Award in 2000. The award is given by Organisation for Understanding and Fraternity (OUF), which seeks to promote communal harmony and national integration. Children, Music working against the cultural mindset that child labour is acceptable Indian classical music, networking with people
My Vision for the Future
A society free from child labour is a vision I have always nurtured. I also yearn for a society which is free from all obstacles to a child's progress and will be a child friendly society.