Several young people from across the country have been the recipient of this year’s prestigious Diana Award for advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals. One of them is 17-year-old Surjeet Lodhi from Madhya Pradesh, whose crusade against alcohol and spreading awareness for education has made him an inspiration for other children. He has been conferred the award during a virtual meet.
Surjeet, from MP’s Bidisha district, has been the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father. This had triggered him to bring about a change in the mindset of the men in the village. With the help and support of the Gram Panchayat, Surjeet was instrumental in the closure of five liquor shops in the villages and thereby felt the need to curb alcohol abuse, which is often committed by the men in the village. Besides, he helped over 120 children in his village to get access to education and continue learning in school.
With the help of Bal Mitra Gram (BMG), a flagship programme of Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF) team and children’s councils, Surjeet has been instrumental in awareness organising campaigns in five villages and reached up to 410 people, including Village Council members. Drawing inspiration from him, women from Bhilay and Sahwa villages joined hands to demand finance for children’s education instead of splurging them on alcohol. After a two-year-long crusade, the team was successful in forcing the Village council and District administration to close down five shops in 2019.
The village communities now keep a vigil on alcohol consumption by male community members and violence against women and children.
Talking to reporters, Surjeet said, “I am extremely proud to receive this award and it has increased my accountability and responsibility towards the children of my country. I will work extensively towards the education of children and further intensify the de-addiction drive, which is at the root cause of abuse and exploitation. I will follow the footsteps of my role model Nobel Peace Laureate Shri Kailash Satyarthi and work towards a child-friendly world."
During the ensuing lockdown from March 2020, Surjeet along with other youth groups and Children Councils worked towards preventing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the area. He also ensured proper access to food to villagers while people lost their jobs and advocated for proper adherence to covid-19 guidelines. He actively promoted vaccination drive in his village and his relentless efforts have ensured that there are no cases of child trafficking and labour there.
The award, given to people in the 9-25 years age group, was conferred on 400 people globally.
Established in memory of Diana, the Princess of Wales, the award is considered the “highest accolade" a young person can achieve for social action or humanitarian efforts. It is given out by the charity of the same name and has the support of her sons — the Duke of Cambridge and the Duke of Sussex.