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 !
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.
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:-
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.
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.
What is a woman’s place in the modern world?
So many have asked this question and for so long. My one such direct faceoff with this question came when my father sought my opinion on it. From a father, to a daughter . What do you think is a woman’s place in the modern world?
My response – That depends on who gets to answer this question.
I am appalled and thrilled by how conveniently everyone ignores the inherent bias in this question . And don’t take me wrong while I say this but how does anyone get to assume that a ‘place’ for women must be defined and set forth to begin with. Half of the population must somehow be reduced to the role arrived at by a single conversation. No matter how broad that role is, it will be –by-nature–a reduction from the infinite variety that is womanhood. How can a one size fit all model be applied to anyone?
There is and must not be any role for women, instead we must seek to diversify the entire discourse. Irrespective of a man or a woman there is a role for everyone, individually. But our empowerment , our strength lies , not in the role but the power to choose that role. That is the entire premise of feminism . Not equality, not empowerment, not fixation of roles . But the freedom to be able to make choices and decide your own role. The very fact that I have to make this point shows how deep rooted patriarchy is in our minds , and how subtle the control is . Allowing women to do as they want is not the point, the entire point is setting a woman free to make her own choices , even if those choices go against any one’s perception of right and wrong
The womenfolk of Uttarakhand are at the centre of our entire work in Uttarakhand , as stakeholders, managers and also as beneficiaries. The SKVK program in uttarakhand is a shining example of how women have moved forward not in fraternity, as a brotherhood but in their own unique sisterhood , lifting each other up, nourishing each other with love and support . We have been able to achieve this by the Self Help Group model of development which has found a strong footing in the rest of the country as well.
SHGs – A Brief Introduction
A self help group is a village based financial intermediary committee usually composed of 10-20 local woman. The members make small regular saving contributions for a few months until there is enough capital in the group for lending. Funds may then be lent back to the members or other villagers . These SHGs are then further ‘linked’ to banks for delivery of micro credit. It lays emphasis on capacity building, planning of activity clusters, infrastructure build up, technology ,credit and marketing.
NEED FOR SHGs
OBJECTIVES OF SHGs
SHG BANK LINKAGE – WHY IS IT IMPORTANT
According to the Status of Microfinance in India 2009-2010 released recently by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) there are 69,53,000 SHGs in the country savings linked with banks and 48,51,000 SHGs having loan outstandings as on 31 March 2010. The estimated number of families covered under this model is about 970 lakhs. The total savings amount of all the SHGs with banks as on 31 March 2010 amounts to Rs.6198.71 crore and the total amount of loans outstanding against SHGs as on 31 March 2010 is Rs.28038.28 crore. The SHG-Bank Linkage Model is the largest financial inclusion programme in the world. Following is a brief account of how SHGs
The next part of the article would discuss at stretch , specifically how our Uttarakhand SKVK project incorporates SHGs to drive change throughout the region by skill development and agriculture. It also delves into the details of how the mobilisation process and the formation of SHG happens, how the day to day activities are conducted and how the monthly meeting process takes place.
Sewa International’s endeavors in Uttarakhand began precisely with the objective of rehabilitation of these village folk and the local population of the mountains. The vision and objective of our program there, is rehabilitation of the local population after the tragedy that stuck Uttarakhand in 2013. The objective being to provide them sustainable means of livelihood leading to socio-economic prosperity.
The cradle of our rehabilitation program in Uttarakhand is Sewa Kaushal Vikas Kendra (SKVK), which is further split into 6 specialised constituents dealing with different aspects of the rehabilitation. Following are the 6 verticals under which the SKVK project functions in Uttarakhand.
The article aims at giving a view of the day to day activities of the SHG and the process followed to mobilise villagers and form more SHGs, how strengthening SHGs would help us with our larger objective of forming a Farmer Producer Organisation in the coming future.
SHG FORMATION PROCESS
The SHG formation process is a series of numerous meetings and research regarding the demography and socio economic condition of the area in question and involves a series of steps.
MEETINGS AND MOBILIZATION
Next follows a series of meetings over a span of weeks in which following pointers are discussed with the men and women of the village.
WORKING AND OPERATIONS
Apart from the monthly meetings at the end, the daily ongoing activities by the members include the following
MONTHLY MEETING PROCESS FOR SHGs
The end of the month is usually a hustle bustle. With all the SHG incharges coming over from different clusters and gathering in the Simli office the place comes to life. For me, it was a palette of painted colours in the office walls. With almost 30-40 women dressed in their traditional attires, moving around carrying a bag, their office documents, addressing the rest of the team, the sight in itself is empowering. You see that’s what women can do to anything they lay their hands upon. Turn it colourful, make it creative, break the rut and monotony, infuse humour into an otherwise boring process. If only, they are given the opportunity, the confidence to learn , to experiment and to achieve. If they are not tied to tradition, bound by expectations and limited by norms we can create more self driven women leaders and entrepreneurs.
SHG Trainings And Orientations
My first contact with the members of SKVK was the 2 day leadership training program of the Sewa Mahila Jyoti group that I witnessed. Far beyond the the hue and cry of strong, independent women, the raging debates of women empowerment , were these women. In the entirety of their lives they would have lived in and around the same village, surrounded by the high rise Himalayas, with their lives running in circles around their families and fields. With the SKVK project, while they came together, interacted for the first time , not in the gossip groups but sitting in a well furnished room , on chairs and tables, with boards and computers and projectors, it’s a new world indeed. Seeing them come up, shedding away the shyness, the hesitant voices was an interesting experience in itself. The training session encompassed a holistic learning model. The focus remains on developing the core competencies of the women namely communication skills to make them efficient motivators, equipping them with the knowledge of the subject technical knowhow and resourcefulness.
From musical chairs to ball passing games, the training is as innovative, as engaging as it can get. For a moment it seemed surreal. And why won’t it?
In a society where somehow awkwardly, young women start confining themselves indoors after adulthood, these activities bring them face to face with the child inside them, invoking in them a sense of confidence and self-expression. The activities are aimed at inculcating values such as leadership skills, performing in a team, communication skills and interpersonal skills.
Any social sector organization’s success ultimately lies to what extent it is able to make the beneficiaries independent of the organization and also self-sustainable. With the work being done in Uttarakhand we are hopeful and positive that from every family and from every woman will emerge a leader capable enough to hold the reigns of not just their family, but also the community as a large. We also believe that economic prosperity shall go a long way in uplifting the other standards of human development such as health, education and eventually culture. We would be happy to receive as many suggestions, inputs, and insights from our readers, donors, stakeholders, and citizens, in general, hoping that you would share with us the best practices that can help us build a better society together.
“Ours can be the first generation to end poverty – and the last generation to address climate change before it is too late.”
The above quote by Ban-Ki Moon, Former UN Secretary-General, aptly summarised in a line the extent of crisis that we face as a civilization and interestingly how well connected these problems are. The acceptance of this fact is the first step towards formulating an action plan to combat the dire situation we are in. And it doesn’t even have a name for it. You may disguise it as mere climate change, global warming, poverty, unemployment, migration, population explosion, but aren’t all these a part of some sort of holocaust, some sort of destruction that the mankind has called upon itself. In its ruthless ways of consumption and lust for more, it has bled the mother earth, of its resources, exploited them in the name of development and now we stand at the cusp of this destruction and the problem is, we don’t have a Plan B. We can’t have a Plan B because we don’t have a Planet B!!
The United Nations in 2015 came together and in January 2016 gave the Sustainable Development Goals to the world to follow. Uptil now 193 countries have signed the SDGs, passed by the UN General Assembly. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The SDGs, build on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals, cover social and economic development issues including poverty, hunger, health, education, global warming, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, urbanization, environment, and social justice, while including new areas such as climate change, economic inequality, innovation, sustainable consumption, peace, and justice, among other priorities. The goals are interconnected – often the key to success on one will involve tackling issues more commonly associated with another.
Distinguished Panel to start the proceedings for the SDG Seminar,(from left – Dr. Balu, Ma. Dattatreya Hosabale ji, Shri Shyam Parande)
Sewa International at its 3 days long International Sewa Baithak starting from 6th December to 8th December 2018, dedicated the first day (6th Dec 2018) towards a Seminar on Sustainable Development Goals and what they mean for India and the social sector at large. In doing so, it was our aim to give a clear direction towards these goals to our future endeavors and projects. The event was graced by many dignitaries and delegates from over 13 countries. The event was chaired by Ma Dattatreya Hosabale Ji (Sah-Sarakaryavaah (Joint General Secretary) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS)). He began the session with the insight that one cannot ignore or deny the wisdom of the local communities in a region, communities who have been living in tandem with nature for centuries. Instead of just focussing on evolving new technologies to reverse the ill effects of exploitation of resources we might want to take a step back and consider an overhaul in our attitude that makes us compulsive consumers even at the peril of the resources of the planet.
Some of the prominent speakers included Dr. Ramaswami Balasubramaniam (development scholar, author,public policy advocate, leadership trainer and activist), Dr. Yogesh Gokhale (fellow at TERI India), Dr. Gajanan Dange (the former head of KVK, Nandurbar, Maharashtra),Shri Kapil Sahasrabuddhe (Vice President at YOJAK Center for Research and Strategic Planning for Sustainable Development), Dr. P.K Anand (Retd IAS), Atul Kaushik (Ex Additional Secretary in charge of the Speaker’s Research Initiative (SRI)), Dr. Nagesh Kumar (Chief Economist of the Macroeconomic Policy and Development Division at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)), Dr. Sunita Pandey (Professor of Agronomy, Dept of Plant Pathology, GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar Dist Udham Singh Nagar) and Prof Kaushal Kumar (Prof at JNU) .
Dr. Balu presenting his views while delivering the Keynote Address on SDGs
After the inaugural address, Dr. Balasubramaniam, popularly known as Dr Balu, began the Keynote Address, by elaborating on the idea of development and how SDGs are relevant to India. He emphasized the fact that development is not just about GDP (Gross Domestic Product) but also about other indices like HDI( Human Development Index) and GNHI (Gross National Happiness Index). Given the fact that the last 100 years have seen enormous changes, it is important to ask the question, whether SDGs are enough to combat or possibly reverse the damage done. Also, who defines development and in what measures. Development has created a crisis that is turning its head against us. This culture of consumerism has led us to an ecological and societal crisis, emanating from a crisis of the self. Dr. Balu emphasized on the point that as Indians our growth story has been incidental as our focus has always been on investing in human capital, in the physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual development of man. The Indian way of life preached contentment which is the way to sustainability.
Dr. Yogesh Gokhale continued further on the same lines by quoting examples from our ancient culture whereconservation and contentment formed an essential aspect of the Indian way of life. Traditions like sthala vriksha, tree worship, the presence of species of cultural importance to people eg Tulsi, ecosystem-based conservation practices like machiyal (sacred pools in streams), have served as last resort homes of many species of plants. He brought attention to the fact that community contribution to sustainable development has not yet been quantified by state and non-state agencies, and more should be done to recognize the efforts at grassroots and also to serve as examples that can be replicated throughout the country. In a scathing opposition to the way the western population lives and contributes tremendously in increasing the carbon footprint at the global level, Dr. Gokhale lauded the fact that the lifestyle of our local communities is their biggest contribution to climate action and conservation. Despite their limited capacity and no legal recognition, the communities pan India have been able to preserve about 200,000 natural sites owing to our robust traditions.
Moving onto the policy formulation at national and local levels towards the SDGs, Shri Atul Kaushik, spoke about the very important concept of involving perceptivity of local governments, representatives and parliamentarians in working towards SDGs. Parliamentarians are important links between government policies and the voice of the people. A top-down approach towards any policy often leads to a sort of cascading effect at the grassroots, but when the initiative comes from within the people and their representatives, it puts the impetus on the executive and the government to align their development policies accordingly in that direction. The same approach towards SDGs should come from sensitizing the local representatives and also making space for the sustainable practices that our ancestors have been practicing for centuries.
Dr. Nagesh Kumar described at length, from an economic and development standpoint, how the SDGs are interrelated and can be confined to 7 key areas. Agriculture, Industry and Services are three spokes of the economic cycle. While India was chiefly an agrarian economy in the past, it made a direct leap to the services sector, which no doubt escalated our GDP numbers but failed to generate large-scale employment which can only come through manufacturing sector; at the same time making us self-dependent in terms of production of essential goods. The dependence on imports puts a country’s sovereignty at risk if our export competitiveness is not equally strong. An important facet of industrial growth and overall development is to close gaps in infrastructure, harnessing the demographic dividend through universal access to education and health. An ardent need to invest in schools, hospitals, toilets and other infrastructure of public utility would ensure that we develop human capital which in turn can make sustainable development goals a reality. Social protection and financial inclusion for reducing inequalities poverty and other forms of deprivation are some other measures that the government is focussing on to create a sustainable human capital.
The national policies in alignment with the global SDGs have been taking active steps towards implementing a universal social pension, addressing food security issues and working towards sustainable agriculture, promoting gender equality and women empowerment through entrepreneurship, enhancing environmental sustainability through low carbon climate resilient pathways to development.
Dr. Sunita Pandey apprising about the link between Sustainable Agri-practices and SDGs
In a specific angle towards linking SDGs to Agriculture, Dr Sunita Pandey’s insights regarding the topic proved to be an eye-opener for all, when she mentioned the global crisis of food security and how the traditionally revered relationship we had with land impacted our mindsets in a way that led us to live sustainably and consume as per our needs. With massive and large-scale commercialization of agriculture, it has become yet another industry where each year the quality of the soil is deteriorated by mindless use of pesticides and fertilizers which now have entered our food chain as well. We consume poison on our plates and if this fact does not stir our conscience then what else will. Tracing the history of agriculture since Indus valley civilization, Dr. Pandey enlightened everyone on the traditional agricultural practices, that helped maintain a healthy soil and gave time for it to replenish and nurture itself back. Novel methods of water conservation and irrigation like rainwater harvesting, have been used in our country since time immemorial. Our blind aping of the west has resulted in dwindling of all such traditions like Shri Palekar’s Zero Farming, Jaivik Kheti of Tara Chand Belji of MP. The need of the hour is to have a key policy shift in not just the agricultural research and education but also in the mindsets of all stakeholders, most importantly farmers.
Prof Kaushal Kumar pertinently questioned the viability of the green revolution and how far had it actually succeeded in bringing about development. It was mostly the big farmers who benefitted from it while the nothing changed for the small and marginal farmers. He emphasized the need to learn to manage resources so that the ecological sustainability of villages and communities is maintained and that in turn can stop mass migration and urbanisation. A holistic approach towards development would mean investing in education, school infrastructure, agriculture and allied activities like horticulture, livestock, fisheries, pickle and juice making. The village economy needs to be strengthened by equipping the local entrepreneurs with modern methods of marketing and technology. He elaborated upon various Government schemes and policies that are working in the direction of SHGs. Schemes like Unnat Bharat have been doing great work in adopting villages and and transforming the economic status of farmers. Sh Kapil Sahasrabuddhe and Dr Gajanan Dange, talked about the efforts and role of voluntary and community organizations in implementing Sustainable Development Goals at the grassroots level. Following nature’s season cycle, observing the rainfall patterns, need assessment before planning development works, linking faith to resources and instigating reverence for nature are some of the things that the social sector organizations can do to make way for the fulfillment of SDGs at the local level. Speaking of YOJAK, Shri Kapil spoke about their working with local organizations especially in tribal areas and linking them with partners at various levels for natural resource-based livelihood and biodiversity conservation. The organization has been currently working on institutional development for capacity enhancement of grassroots level organizations and individuals, especially in rural and tribal areas.
Shri Devi Prasad moderating the whole Seminar and presenting his views based on his experience working at the Rural Development Ministry
The event was moderated by Shri Devi Prasad (Retd IES), who very efficiently held the gathering together while allowing a free flow of ideas and questions from the audience as well. He apprised all with his valuable insights gathered from life-long stint in different govt debts at various levels.
The event was concluded by an open-ended question-answer session where the speakers responded to various queries and questions from the audience.
We were delighted by the active participation from the audience and the enthusiasm of the key speakers who answered each query aptly. Sewa intends to carry forward insights emerging out of the discussion to lay a strong foundation for our future projects and endeavors in various parts of the country.
Sewa International encourages and calls upon all the citizens and the members of the civil society, particularly youth to join us in this journey.In the words of the United Nations, “at its essence, sustainability means ensuring prosperity and environmental protection without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. A sustainable world is one where people can escape poverty and enjoy decent work without harming the earth’s essential ecosystems and resources; where people can stay healthy and get the food and water they need; where everyone can access clean energy that doesn’t contribute to climate change; where women and girls are afforded equal rights and equal opportunities.”
Let’s be a global citizen today . Act with passion and compassion. Help us make this world safer and more sustainable today and for the generations that will follow us. That is our moral responsibility.
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