Governance Tips from India's Childrenby Augustine Veliath March 7 2014, 4:47 pm Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 32 secs
Manisha from Siwan:
The Price We Pay for Patriarchy
For 23 years, I was a UNICEF official. This meant children paid my salary. Children still pay my pension.
That made me a listener and a harvester of children’s thoughts and views. Here in this column I share with you the infinite wisdom and insights of some of India’s children as it was told to me over the last two decades.
The year after I joined UNICEF, all the nations of the world came together to unanimously vote and passes the Convention of the Rights of Children (CRC).
The convention among other things gave the children the right to be heard and adults the duty to listen to children and act in “the best interest of children”.
The Convention also, through its article 45 mandated UNICEF takes CRC to the world. Listening to children, creating platforms and channels for children to speak became a part of my job description.
Children as Fact finders
We found umpteen channels and methods which would make children’s voice be heard. One of which, the Child Rights Congress an initiative that took shape in the undivided Bihar and spread to seven other states.
We latched on to the Children’s Science Congress, what is probably the world’s largest child participation event.
The Department of Science and Technology spearheads the Children’s Science Congress and thousands of schools simultaneously get involved in. Thousands of science teachers enthuse tens of thousands of school children to do “science projects”.
The children in groups of four undertake a scientific quest, document it in graphs and charts and defend their science project at the school level, at the district level, at the state level and finally at the national level. At the national children’s science Congress children also interact with the leading scientists of the country.
At the Child Rights Congress children did much the same things. They did a societal research on how children are treated.
Children are amazing fact finders. Armed with these facts they defend their research project.
There were two differences between children’s science congress and children’s rights congress. The Science Congress usually has an annual theme. The Rights Congress let the children chose their own subjects depending on what they as most relevant to their understanding of rights.
The second difference the science Congress was supported by a Government Department and the rights congress never found takers in the government departments. Listening to children is nobody’s priority.
Manisha Mounts her Chart Attack
The project that I remember most and quote most came from Manisha. It happened around the year 2000.
Manisha, then 13, came from Siwan, a distict in the western Bhojpuri speaking area of Bihar. Siwan has given India its first President Dr Rajendra Prasad and Natwarlal, one of India’s cleverest criminals whose exploits are legendary.
Shahubuddin who spent many years in Indian parliament and many more years in Bihar’s Jails was synonymous with Siwan, so was Chandrashekhar, the outspoken JNU student leader who paid the price for liberty with his life.
Manisha and her team of four students decided to research on how women and girls are treated by their neighborhood.
Their research was thorough. Their findings were disturbing. Their charts and graphs were worth thousands of teasing, provoking and challenging words.
Armed with her research findings, Manisha mounted her chart attack on patriarchy and the gender injustices of the society around her.
Manisha defended her project at the school and was sent to the district to represent the school. From the district she was selected to compete at the state level.
The State Children’s Congress was held in the neighboring district at Chapra. In attendance was the Bihar Minister for Science and Technology of the RJD and a young BJP MP and later the Civil Aviation Minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy.
Manisha, once again defended her project, answered questions of other experts present. She was declared one of the state level winners.
Now a triumphant and beaming Manisha and her team displayed the project at the public forum and were eagerly and passionately explaining and answering.
He Came, He Saw, He disapproved.
Patriarchy does not give up easily. A respected and retired Pracharya ( Principal) in his spotless white Kurta and Dhoti arrived. He came, he saw and he disapproved.
In his intimidating, authoritarian voice the patriarchal voice said “ Yeh ladki, who has put up this nonsense here. Such things are not spoken outside. This is against our culture and our civilization. Take all your charts down”
Against such an onslaught from a much respected local authority, what would you have done if you were in Manisha’s place?
Manisha took a step back. With some reverence and more indignation, she told the much respected former Principal, “Respected Sir, To keep this culture and civilization how more blood would you drink? “
“Sir a culture that survives on other’s blood is no culture; a civilization that demands human sacrifices is no civilization. Let us together change this culture and this civilization, Sir.” The young had spoken. The future had its say. The Respected principal was speechless, perhaps for the first time in his life.