Inducting Children Into Democracy

Imagine a landscape painted in green and blue. While you stand on the edge of the cliff, the setting so serene that you can hear the cow on the opposite hill everytime her bell rings. And as you inch upwards, every curve of the road reveals an even more breathtaking view of the Devbhoomi. I was to reach Dhankot, a village of 3000 people, around 80 kms from Karnaprayag, Uttarakhand. Tucked away in absolute serenity to meet and interact with a bunch of little children aged 6 to 13. Sewa International’s first Bal Panchayat !

THE IDEA 

Bal Panchayats or a children’s parliament is an idea initiated and supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). This model, which was tried in the Bishnupur block of West Bengal a few years ago, has been implemented with gusto by two districts of Rajasthan. The aim of being simple.

Let’s engage the future of the country in today’s decision-making process. A child who, for every adult out there has always been someone who has to be taken care of, taught and disciplined. Never ever, until recent times have we engaged children in a dialogue, a conversation as an equal, as a distinct individual. This leads to children turning into underconfident, suppressed adults who do what they do because that was expected of them. Because their parents said so.

Its aptly said ‘ A child is the father of a man’, and so often it is the children who come forth with the deepest lessons in the most simplest ways. It’s the children whose minds are devoid of  preconceived notions, of discrimination and inequality and hence it is them only who are the change makers.

The idea of bal panchayat is to provide a platform for children to raise a voice against issues surrounding them and affecting them both locally and nationally. A collective voice would help children to take their grievances to the adult duty bearers.

OUR BAL PANCHAYAT ( SEWA LITTLE SINGHAM)

Our Bal Panchayat in Dankot is a humble beginning towards this direction. In a village where perhaps these children would have never come across any form of technology except a TV and Radio, where education is a luxury, where connectivity, both geographical and intellectual to the outside world is next to nil, initiating such an idea is both full of challenges and opportunities.

FORMATION

The group presently comprises of about 16 children aged 6 to 13, spread through standards 1st till 7th. I had doubts regarding how open and receptive these little ones would be to an outsider’s presence amongst them in the first meeting itself. But that’s where kids can shock and surprise you at the same time. With my first Hello, they greeted me with warm smiles and warmer hugs, all chirping at the same time, bubbling with an infectious energy.

The next moment Priyanshu, 13,  the Pradhan of the panchayat informed me of how in these Sunday meetings he would go about, door to door, calling all the other members to assemble in the nearby primary school. He laughs and adds that the latecomers are fined Rs 1 each which goes to the Gullak Mantri Tushar, who gives me a curt, coy nod, so characteristic of an accountant. The third important position is that of the Bal Mantri, Kajal, who maintains a register of the new members joining and the visitors visiting. I couldn’t help but look at her in awe as she jotted down my name in the register with utter sincerity and pride in her role.

The core group members are chosen with the consent of all the other members. Any kid wanting to be the part of the panchayat contacts the core group to become a member. The team also takes care of mobilising more children to join the panchayat.

WHAT DO THEY DO (GOALS AND ACTIVITIES)

The long term goal is to put these children out in the social space where they can identify and perceive society from an analytical perspective. Where they are able to identify the ills prevailing around, pressing issues like gender equality, waste disposal, maintaining sanitation and conserving environment. Ideally a bal panchayats has the following roles

  1. The Bal Panchayat is first sensitised about the issues concerning them and how these can be addressed
  2. After discussion with the adult facilitator, an action plan is prepared to take it forward .
  3. On important days like World Environment day, Literacy day , Child labour day etc , children organise rallies, human chains etc. around their community and locality to create awareness among the people.

TAKING THE FIRST STEPS – OUR ACTIVITIES

For them to be able to identify these problems and to stay united as a voice and a stakeholder, we have initiated them into fun learning activities to develop a brotherhood and an idea of community participation in them. The activities which as of now revolve around content focus, interactivity, critical thinking, production, problem solving and reflection are hoped to bring a behavioural change in the intellect of the kids. These activities would help enhance the interpersonal skills of the children, imparting them values and developing skills through learning. A lot of the planned activities include direct participation of parents and the teachers. Each activity is first judged in terms of the learning it imparts and the skills it helps to develop.

  1. With the children finally settling down, they were asked to write a letter to their grandfather talking about their day, their school etc. It was amusing to see these little kids trying hard to think of words and then subsequently even drifting to drawing pictures and patterns all over their sheets.
  2. The next thing was an origami activity. From little one making boats and aeroplanes to the slightly elder ones experimenting with crafting frogs and birds, all of them dropped their creations before me in an expression of the triumph of their innovations.
  3. We then engaged in a poetry and song recitation session with the kids. From popular bollywood to some folk garhwali songs they outdid each other, partly for the applause received  and partly for the candies I gave them after every performance. The confidence to speak in front of a crowd and more so to sing it out loud spoke volumes about how fearless and pure children are.

Music and all forms of art can help nurture and holistically enhance a person’s personality and creativity. In a world torn by war , strife and discrimination our only hope is children and it’s time we protect them against the madness of a competitive race, of feeding them our own skewed notions of religion, society, success and morality. To expose these young, inquisitive souls to art forms, to music, to literature of a qualitative nature and in that way give them a progressive thought process and an awakened intellect.

The forthcoming activities in this regard would include meditation sessions along with music listening sessions , poetry recitation and story telling sessions. From introducing them to different musical instruments to retelling them tales from our epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, it is expected to open up a whole new sky of knowledge and imagination for these kids .

At last we sincerely urge all stakeholders, the parents , the teachers and every citizen reading this to come forward, with ideas, with resources to make this endeavour a success. For it is in our best interest to pass on the best to the future generations, to develop empathetic leadership which takes the country forward onto the peace and prosperity.  Your suggestions and efforts would be appreciated and are welcomed.