Monday, 11 August 2008

Shaping the young through Kishori panchayats

By : Annu Anand
Muzaffarpur, Bihar
Sixteen year-old Sangita doesn't belong to any television channel or film world but she can be seen shooting with camera in remote villages of Bihar. She captures images of small functions held in villages as efficiently as a professional cameraperson. Besides shooting, she can also write scripts and make documentaries on village life.
Anjali of Kanti Nagar village knows screen-printing and print visiting cards and wedding invitations. In addition, eighteen year-old Anjali can handle several other chores such as Bindi and papad making to boost the income of her family. She is intermediate pass and uses her knowledge to make village women aware of their rights.
Sangita and Anjali are among hundreds of adolescent girls in the district who are getting trained in traditional as well as modern crafts through Kishori Panchayat- a forum of adolescent girls. Like elsewhere in the state, young girls of this district also drop out early from schools to help parents in household work. It was to engage such girls in productive work that Kishori Panchayats were formed in 1997 by a Patna-based voluntary body, Centre for Communication Research and Development.The idea behind these Panchayats is to "incubate future women leadership". There is interesting history behind starting Kishori Panchayat. "When we were organizing self help groups of women, we used to hold trainings sessions. Women used to be accompanied by their children, especially adolescent girls. We noticed that young girls were quick and enthusiastic learners and would often help their mothers understand the content of the programme in local language," said Varun Kumar, project coordinator. "They were also becoming politically and socially aware. So it was decided that adolescent girls should be treated as independent entity and given chance to learn and grow despite the social barriers."
Two open schools were started in Adigopalpur and Kanhara where around 50 girl students are studying in each one. Each school has two teachers and school provide them with informal education. Few girls of this school have now passed regular metric exams.
Thirteen year old Rehana of Adigopalpur school says she was studying in a primary school but was forced to drop out by her father so that she can help her mother in household works. When Kishori panchayat was formed in her village, her parents were convinced to send her to the open school.
Till now more than 15 Kishori Panchayats have been formed in the block and most of young girls have become members. These panchayats are formed through self help groups working in the district.
Each panchayat consists of 10 to 20 members in 10-19 age group. The group then elects its office bearers and decides its priorities based on an assessment of local needs and problems. Senior members of the self help group concerned help the young ones in this task.
The training programme covers personal skill training as well as familiarization of political, economic and social issues.
Skill training includes stitching, tailoring, bangle making, Bindi and papad making, screen-printing videography and script writing. Social and political issues like legal awareness, gender equality, panchayati raj and reproductive health are also covered.
After five years of training these adolescent brigades are now addressing social and economic issues in this backward district. Several instances of these girls pressurizing parents to stop early marriages have come to light. Narrating one such incident, Sangita said parents of Rajani in Adigopalpur village had fixed her marriage when she was just 14. But Rajani wanted to pursue her studies and tried to convince her parents. But when her parents did not listen, ten members of Kishori Panchayat reached to her house.
"We explained her mother about adverse impact on health of girls if they conceive before 20. The mother got convinced but the father was still adamant. At last, with the help of the self help group leader, we could convince him also. Now Rajani is preparing for tenth class exams," said Sangita proudly. The panchayats are also addressing issues like eve teasing.
These young women are instrumental in spreading awareness about panchayati raj institutions, health and hygiene. Ruby of Karanpur village goes door to door to spread awareness about cleanliness and, reproductive health.
Gunja and Sangita mobilize women especially newly married ones to access the information from the centre located in Bochahn. They convey their message of Panchyati Raj by singing songs composed by them in local language like "dili se Aielai sakhiya Panchyati Raj he, Okre main hotai sakhi, hamane ke kaj he…"(O friend Panchyati raj has come from Delhi, out of that will emerge our rule i.e people's rule.)
There are many such examples, where these young girls are writing success stories of their empowerment.
But this needs to be replicated in other districts of Bihar as well as other states in the country. The growing number of self help groups in different states can help grooming young women into separate groups to tackle their special needs.
Addressing this segment of the population could bring about qualitative change in lives of future citizens.

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