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Economic development is yet to make its inroads in the large part of India’s rural and remote areas. In this scenario, community participation in the development process can play vital role for social well being. Shipra Baduni writes on how it brings change in social empowerment...
Almost all of us know that the essence of democracy is a system which is for the people, by the people and of the people, the last two elements being indicative of active citizen participation, integral for an ‘active’ rather than a ‘passive’ democracy. There are many challenges for which citizens hold the government solely responsible; however, it is imperative to understand that though the generation of awareness about citizen’s rights are essential, the mobilisation and participation of citizens, irrespective of their backgrounds, age and gender, for the greater cause of the community and country, are paramount.
Angita Jatav, 18, hails from the village of Sohnpur, Alwar, Rajasthan. Though she had heard about the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ like most citizens, her chance to be an active part of the programme came with her enrolment for the Digital Literacy and Life Skill Education initiative commenced by the SM Sehgal Foundation. Joining the course meant a deeper understanding of not only the crux of good rural governance, including basic knowledge of the functioning of local governing bodies, government schemes and rights/entitlements, but also about a citizen’s duties.
“Each day, at the centre, began with the cleaning of classrooms by respective students themselves. As this good habit became a part of me and my routine, I proposed an idea to my teacher: why don’t we convert this habit into a drive? The idea found resonance with both the administration and the students, and a date was chosen for the same: the Republic Day i.e. the 26th of January. Having learnt basic digital literacy skills at the centre, we used this knowledge to search the net for creative slogans and poster designs, which formed the basis of our charts and placards used for the rally,” says Angita with pride.
Around 200 students participated in the rally, which made its way through the entire village, encouraging community members and other students to join in. Chanting slogans on maintaining cleanliness not only in the house and neighbourhood, but also in the village, the group of students marched with confidence, motivating onlookers to be a part of the drive, thereby mobilising their community, which is a skill in its own right.
“This drive helped also generate awareness on gender equality and women empowerment, using the ‘beti bachao, beti padhao’ campaign as the basis. In fact, at the centre, we learnt about women’s rights, which encouraged me to explain to one of my relatives to abstain from marrying her under-age daughter,” adds Angita.
Shehnaz Bano is a computer instructor in the village of Sakras, Mewat, Haryana. Her first challenge lays in getting students to attend the digital literacy classes being organised at the centre in her village. Convincing parents to send their children, especially their daughters, was a huge challenge. “I remember reiterating, time and again, the success stories of some other girls, who had secured an education. Besides this, parents had to be convinced about the multidimensional benefits of education, especially in the eradication of poverty of all forms and at all levels. I also sought the help of the anganwadi workers, the village sarpanchs (village council heads) and the principals of schools to secure a list of students. By the end of all the efforts, a batch of 30 motivated students was formed, subsequently, training began at the centre,” Shehnaz shares her story.
“One of the initiatives which all of us decided to spearhead, as part of a social initiative, was an immunisation drive for generating awareness about the immunisation of young children against five lethal diseases. This was not an easy task either, as parents were reluctant to even listen to us. They complained that immunisation came with a series of side effects such as high fever, swelling among others,” Shehnaz further says.
“The challenge, for us, lay in the fact that we had to draw out a comparison between the pros and cons of immunisation for parents to understand the dire need of timely vaccination. At the beginning, it was very tough, but we did not loose heart. It was a challenge and learning process for each one of us too. However, we were able to convince people – lesser numbers at first, but more later,” she adds.
It is Shehnaz’s dream to ensure immunisation for all the children of her village, as she believes that a healthy nation only can be a progressive nation.
"Digital and internet literacy can be powerful tools to know about one’s rights and entitlements. In addition, if life skills are imparted to young boys and girls, along with information on village governance, it instils in them a sense of confidence to address development issues, with the aim of possible collective action,” says Anjali Makhija, Director, Strengthening Village Level Institutions, Sehgal Foundation.
Another inspirational story is that of Dilip, who is visually challenged. He resides in Taoru, Nuh district, Haryana. But, listening to his stories of accomplishments, it is hard to believe that this challenge serves as a hindrance to his drive and determination to help. “Why should my sight, or rather lack of it, be an impairment? I always wanted to help people. So, I began by equipping myself with the required knowledge – awareness about government schemes and entitlements, procedures for application, complaint redressal platforms and so on,” Dilip says.
“I can now help families below the poverty line to avail their monthly quota of ration, or assist widows in filling-out forms for receiving their dues under the widow pension scheme, or help senior citizens apply for their pension. And, it gives me great pleasure in doing so, not because of any monetary contribution, but because of the blessings I receive,” he adds. One could not agree more with Dilip’s words.
Vikas Jha, director, Governance & Policy Advocacy, Sehgal Foundation, stresses on the need for community mobilisation and participation. He says, “In order to encourage community mobilisation and participation, a good rural governance app has been designed. This app, which was launched in March, has multiple features such as an info board which provides information on government schemes and notifications, a section where impact stories can be shared, and a platform where issues pertaining to block-level governance can be posted and subsequently taken-up. The awareness about the app is being actively generated through sessions in various colleges such as the recent one at ITI Jhirka in the Nuh district of Haryana.”
Martin Luther King Jr. summed up the essence of contribution in a beautiful quote: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” These words place the emphasis on ‘doing’ rather than the scale. As citizens of a democracy, it is our responsibility to bring about positive change by working towards it, no matter what the scale. Every drop contributes to the magnitude of the ocean. Is it not?
(Shipra Baduni is the Project Coordinator, Strengthening Village Level Institutions, Sehgal Foundation. The views expressed in the article are author’s own)