Surjeet Lodhi, a 17-year-old started his fight against alcoholism and child labor in Madhya Pradesh’s Vidisha district when he was 13. He successfully shut down five alcohol shops and enroll more than a hundred children in school.
He was conferred with the Diana Award 2020 through a virtual ceremony on July 1. The Diana Award is instituted in the memory of the late Princess of Wales. The award is conferred by the charity of the same name and has the support of the late princess’ two sons, the Duke of Cambridge and the Duke of Sussex.
Lodhi was one of the many young Indians who received it this year.
Lodhi joined the Bal Mitra Gram (BMG) Programme started by the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF) in the 1960s across India to end child labour. The programme spreads awareness about child labour and helps parents register their kids in schools.
Growing up in a joint family of 10 members, including his grandparents, uncles, cousins, parents and siblings, Lodhi saw his father drinking since he was a toddler.
Lodhi said, “It was like placing a soft cushion on a hard floor. I finally had someone who I could speak to about my problems without being told how ‘normal’ domestic abuse is. I saw an opportunity for myself and the village. We have several thekas (liquor shops) in our village where you can easily get cheap hazardous alcohol. It was time for them to leave”
As the father wasn’t sober enough t work jobs, Lodhi had to drop out of school and earn money. His grandfather ensured Lodhi was educated and took the responsibility of bringing in money.
Members of the BGM were asked to identify local issues and develop strategies to tackle them. That is when Lodhi came up with ideas for rallies, complaints and awareness campaigns. However, he soon realised they needed something big to make an on-ground impact. So, he decided to shut down shops but there was one problem.
He organised an awareness and campaign in five villages and reached up to 410 people, including Village Council members. Inspired by his initiatives, children and women from Bhilay and Sahwa villages, joined hands with him, demanding financial assistance for children’s education and household needs instead of alcohol.
By 2019, he was able to shut down five liquor shops.
Lodhi and his team also made sure children of alcoholic parents were enrolled in schools. During the lockdown due to pandemic, his team ensured villagers get access to food, adherence to government protocols, and children’s protection, and also promoting the COVID 19 vaccination drive in his village. The relentless efforts helped ensure no cases of child trafficking/child labour.
Lodhi set a personal example by succeeding his father stop alcohol consumption. This has helped him to garner support in his endeavor. Surjeet visits different villages to lead anti-alcohol campaigns.
Surjeet is the third child leader from BMG who won this award for consecutively three years.
Lodhi is presently in Class 11 and hopes to pursue a degree in MBBS or agriculture.