You can steal a Nobel, but not its worth



08, Feb 2017

Nobel laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi’s residence was burgled on February 7 morning and his 2014 Nobel Prize citation was stolen. This is not the first time that the theft of the prestigious prize has been reported since the turn of the century. However, the real worth of the medal is not in the metal that they take away but in the intent and the efforts of the winners.

What is the daring theft?

Nobel laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi’s Greater Kailash residence was burgled on February 7 morning with his 2014 Nobel Prize citation and his Nobel prize replica being stolen along with some other things.

  • Satyarthi was not in his Alaknanda flat when the robbery took place. He was participating in the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Latin America when the sanctity of his house was violated.
  • Satyarthi's original Nobel medallion is kept in Rashtrapati Bhavan since he dedicated his award to the country.

Satyarthi's son Bhuvan Ribhu, who is a senior Supreme Court lawyer, filed a police complaint after he found the front gates of Satyarthi's house broken.

  • An FIR under Section 380 (house theft) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) has been filed.
  • Police has initiated an investigation based on fingerprints lifted from the scene.

Satyarthi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for his work to combat child labour and child trafficking in India.

  • The 63-year-old founded Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or the Save the Childhood Movement, which campaigns for child rights and an end to human trafficking.
  • Through his organization, Satyarthi has freed over 80,000 children from various forms of servitude and helped in successful rehabilitation.
  • Kailash, who was born in Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh, has a degree in electrical engineering and a post-graduate diploma in high-voltage engineering.
  • He shared the award with Pakistani child education activist Malala Yousafzai for her work on female education.

Why is this not unexpected in Delhi?

Given the high crime rate in Delhi and equally underwhelming solve rate of Delhi Police, this burglary might not have come as a surprise to many dwellers of our national capital.

Crime Statistics

According to the Delhi Police data, as many as 2,09,519 cases were registered under various sections of the Indian Penal Code in 2016.Of these, cops managed to solve only 55,957 cases whereas the remaining 1,53,562 - or about 73.29 per cent - remained unsolved.

  • Most of these unsettled cases are about robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft, snatching, etc.
  • Compared to 2015, the crime rate in 2016 went up by 8 percentage points.
  • The data reveal that in 2016, a total of 4,761 robbery cases were registered, out of which 1,821 remained unsolved.
  • Similarly, out of 14,307 burglary cases, as many as 11,902 cases remain mysteries.
  • Snatching incidents have always been a headache for Delhi's top cops as they present the city in bad light. In 2016, as many as 9,571 such cases were registered, out of which the police failed to solve 6,207 cases.

Cops in the city managed to solve only about one-fourth of the crimes reported last year. The less-than-flattering statistics come against the backdrop of the Delhi Police promoting 25,000 of its personnel in 2016 to increase the number of investigators in the department.

  • In 2016, granting "special grade designation", as many as 18,702 personnel were promoted- including 9,364 head constables to assistant sub-inspectors and 933 constables to head constables.
  • 51 inspectors were also promoted to ACP, 117 sub- inspectors to inspectors and 596 ASIs to sub-inspectors. A total of 1,923 personnel were also promoted for functional requirements under the comprehensive scheme.

Amulya Kumar Patnaik, who took charge as the city's top cop on 31 January 2017, was the man behind the move as he believes that promoting the cops will not just help in reducing pending cases but also boost the men's morale.

A total of 1,30,928 cases of theft including motor vehicle theft, were registered in 2016.

  • But cops failed to solve 87 per cent of them.
  • "Go for insurance and claim it after theft," BS Bassi, the then police commissioner, said once when the force failed to solve around 80 per cent of theft cases in 2015.
  • He also said that if people get insurance, it will generate jobs with insurance companies.

However, Delhi Police managed to solve most cases related to dacoity, murder, rape and molestation of women. According to the data of 2015, charge sheets have been filed in around 20 per cent of the cases. The data for 2016 are not available yet.

Lack of resources with Delhi Police

Senior police officers blame the situation on unavailability of CCTV cameras and clues.

A senior officer said a major chunk of the police force is engaged in unaccounted work, like VVIP movement, attending to petty civil complaints and providing security to religious congregations, political protests and other local as well as school functions. This adds to the crisis while severely affecting the investigation of cases.

A report by voluntary organisation Praja Foundation claimed last year that Delhi Police has been hit by staff crunch. The department's security wing is also responsible for keeping safe a slew of dignitaries including the President, Prime Minister, Vice-President and cabinet ministers. The report has considered data up to March 2016.

  • A total of 76,237 policemen are working in Delhi as against the sanctioned capacity of 82,378, which which has come down from 77,117 last year.
  • In 2014-2015 and the corresponding period a year later, the number of police personnel fell by 880 instead of increasing. This shortfall is indicative of the force as a whole — in its entire sanctioned capacity, including districts, specialised units, battalions and those on dedicated security duty.
  • The report has suggested a nine per cent shortfall in all field units put together, which is marginally less than the 10 per cent the organisation put out previous year.
  • Compiled with the help of data collected through Right to Information (RTI) queries, the report says that there are 34,983 officers and personnel of all ranks working in the 11 police districts and Airport duties, as against a sanctioned strength of 38,340 — a difference of 3,357.

When did another Indian have his Nobel stolen?

Celebrated poet and composer Rabindranath Tagore’s 1913 Nobel Prize medal for literature was stolen from Visva Bharati University’s museum in Shantiniketan in March 2004, along with his certificate and some personal possessions.

  • The CBI had taken over the case soon after, but failed to recover it and closed the case in 2007.
  • However, under political pressure, the case was reopened in 2008 and closed again in 2009.

It saw some progress in November 2016 when Pradip Bauri, a 'baul' singer, was arrested by the special investigation team (SIT) from his Ruppur village residence in Birbhum district.

  • He was arrested for providing a safe passage to the culprits to move the stolen items from Shanti Niketan to elsewhere.
  • Bauri, who was the gram panchayat pradhan of Ruppur from 1998 to 2003, had allegedly given shelter to the culprits involved in stealing the medal and also helped them flee the state.
  • Following his interrogation, it has come to light that a Bangladeshi national, Mohammed Hossain Shipul, was the mastermind of the plot and two Europeans were also involved in it.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had said in August 2016 that if the state government was given the responsibility, it could try to retrieve the stolen Nobel medallion.

  • The Special Investigation Team (SIT) which arrested Bauri was formed thereafter.
  • It consists of Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajiv Kumar, ADG of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Rajesh Kumar and IG of CID (II) Javed Shamim.

Where is the folly in stealing medals?

International prestige, a hefty gold medal, and a check for close to $1 million: that's what you get if you win a Nobel Prize.

Stolen medals are usually only worth their value in gold to the thieves and are likely dissolved quickly.

  • Before 1980, the Nobel Prize medal used to be made from 23 carat gold.
  • They are now made with 18 carat green gold, plated with 24 carat gold.

On the other hand, Nobel Prize gold medals tend to sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not millions) when they are auctioned, as they carry at least some amount of respect towards the efforts of the winner.

  • In 2014, James Watson, one of the three people awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 for the discovery of DNA’s double helix structure, auctioned his Nobel medal for $4.7 million to a Russian billionaire, who gave the gold back to the struggling scientist.
  • The only other living Nobel laureate to auction a medal is Leon Lederman, who won a share of the physics prize in 1988 for the codiscovery of the subatomic particle muon neutrino. Lederman suffers from dementia and needed the money to pay for hospital bills, his wife Ellen Lederman told the AP. His gold sold for $765,002 in an online auction in 2015.
  • In July 2015, the prize awarded to Hans Krebs for the discovery of the citric acid cycle hammered for $425,535 at Sotheby’s.
  • In 2014, a private collector auctioned Argentine scholar Carlos Saavedra Lamas 1936 Nobel Peace Prize for $1.1 million.
  • Physicist Francis Crick's award was sold for more than $2 million in 2013.

The real worth of a medal lies not in the gold it is made of, but in the sincere efforts put in by the winner for furthering the cause of humanity. For instance, the Nobel Peace Prize 2014 was awarded jointly to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai "for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education."

  • "Most scientists who do Nobel-quality work do not get into the game to get rich," Daniel Kelves, a professor of history and medicine at Yale, told Live Science in 2010.
  • Rather, he said, it is the ability to work with other high-profile professionals and draw attention to the fields they have dedicated their lives to that is the true reward.

Even with the award stolen, nobody can take away from Kailash Satyarthi the respect he has gained all over the world for his work. Indeed, nobody can even take away the satisfaction he feels for saving 80,000 children from a lifetime of slavery.

Who else had their Nobel stolen?

Aside from Rabindranath Tagore in India, and not counting Satyarthi, there are three other Nobel laureates whose medallions were stolen.

Arthur Henderson

  • The Nobel Peace Prize medal won by Arthur Henderson, one of the founding fathers of Britain’s Labour Party, had been stolen in a £150,000 raid at the Lord Mayor’s office in Newcastle in April 2013.
  • Henderson, a key figure in the modern Labour Party, was its first-ever cabinet minister and had won his prize for his ultimately unsuccessful work on international disarmament before World War II.
  • In spite of an arrest, the medal has not been recovered till date.

Yasser Arafat

  • Former chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Authority, Yasser Arafat, had shared the 1994 Nobel Peace prize with then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres for their work in reaching the 1993 Oslo interim peace accord.
  • After his death in 2004, the medallion had been kept in his Gaza headquarters.
  • When the PLO rival Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from forces loyal to Arafat’s successor, President Mahmoud Abbas, the building was looted and the medal stolen.
  • It has since been returned and will be restored in a museum dedicated to the Palestinian leader where it will be preserved along with his other belongings.

Ernest O. Lawrence

  • The first-ever Nobel medallion won by the University of California, Berkeley was stolen in February 2007.
  • The 1939 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Professor Lawrence for the invention of the cyclotron, an accelerator of sub-atomic particles that led to the nuclear age.
  • Lawrence died in 1958 and the Lawrence Hall of Science within the university, where the medal was on display and stolen from, was named in his honor.
  • A few days after the theft, the medal was recovered and the thief, who turned out to be working in the premises, turned out to be a 22-year old university student, Ian Sanchez.

How has Kailash Satyarthi’s work made the world a better place?

Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, who turned 63 on 15 January 2017, has in his career spanning 36 years, worked to free over 80,000 children from bonded labour.

  • Two years back, it was while he was sitting in his office in Delhi that he found out on Twitter that he had won the Nobel Prize for peace.
  • Leading national dailies then described him as “little known”; however his fight to free children from slavery had begun several decades earlier.

He had made up his mind to work for this cause as a child

  • Satyarthi says that he made up his mind to work for the cause of child labour when he was six and saw a boy of his age cleaning shoes with his father on the steps of his school.
  • At the age of 11, he, along with his friends, collected books from his neighbourhood to give to children who needed them.

He took up the name Satyarthi

  • He was born Kailash Sharma and gave up his surname when he was 15, following an event that had left a deep impact on him.
  • He was witness to an ocassion where ‘upper caste’ political leaders had been invited to a dinner but did not show up because the food had been cooked by ‘lower caste’ people.
  • After this he went on to take the surname Satyarthi which means ‘the seeker of truth’.
  • Satyarthi is also a follower of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals.

He gave up a career in engineering

  • Born in 1954 in Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh, Satyarthi completed a degree in engineering from Samrat Ashok Technological Insitute there.
  • He then joined as a lecturer in a college in Bhopal which he gave up in a few years and became secretary general for the Bonded Labour Liberation Front.

Bachpan Bachao Andolan

  • Started in 1980 by Satyarthi, with the aim of ending child labour, human trafficking, demanding the right to education for all children and ending bonded labour, this movement claims to have freed over 80,000 children and ensure their rehabilitation.

He has worked with Guardian Films

  • Satyarthi has worked with Guardian Films on a documentary about slavery in Assam.
  • Speaking about his work to The Guardian, the Nobel laureate had said “It is a challenge definitely and I know that it is a long battle to fight, but slavery is unacceptable, it is a crime against humanity. I’m not talking in legal terms, morally I feel I cannot tolerate the loss of freedom of any single child in my own country so I am a kind of restless person in that sense. We cannot accept this to happen.”
  • The documentary was about a raid that he led to rescue a girl who had been trafficked from a tea estate in Assam and brought to Delhi.

Global March movement against child labour

  • Satyarthi began the Global March movement with an 80,000 km march with thousands of people who marched together against child labour.
  • The march, which started on January 17, 1998, covered 103 countries and spread awareness as over 7 million people came out in support and participated to show their solidarity.
  • A number of world leaders showed their support for the cause as well.
  • This movement led finally to Geneva on June 1 the same year where the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conference was in session.
  • Their voice was heard and reflected in ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour, which was adopted at the same conference.

He started GoodWeave to fight child labour in the rug industry

  • GoodWeave India, which began as RugMark, is now a global organisation working in Europe and North America, other than India, Nepal and Afghanistan in the sub-continent.
  • It works to protect workers in factories producing rugs across countries.
  • The organisation goes to factories to identify cases of child labour and helping to rehabilitate these children and provide them an education.

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