Children from a children’s parliament in Thane are taking small responsibilities to spread environmental awareness and bring a positive change in society.
Rohini Richard Marri remembers her early teenage years, when she was 13 and used to cross an area filled with contaminated sewage water on her way to school every day in Uttan village, Thane. She and many other children contracted rashes on their legs on a regular basis because of the dirty water and complained to their parents. The sewage water had also started getting merged with the water of a well where people washed clothes and utensils. But no action was taken to clean the area despite many reportings of the problem.
Later, Rohini and a group of other children discussed the matter at a children’s parliament and in their school. They decided to take things in their own hands. With the help of a teacher, Rohini penned a petition letter to the local municipality with signatures of 50 children. The letter asked the municipal authorities to immediately clean the gutter. “We also wrote that if no action was taken, the children themselves would get on ground to clean the gutter, but bore no responsibility if any harm came to them,” says Rohini, adding that within three days, workers had arrived to clean the area. The children also informed their neighbours to not litter the streets and dispose garbage only in designated municipality bins to avoid such contamination.
Reflecting on her actions, Rohini says that if adults had intervened, the authorities would have still responded. “But since nobody was willing to step forward, the children decided to do something on their own. We were eventually appreciated for our actions,” she says. Even though Rohini’s parents were not convinced that the authorities would pay heed to the children, “they did not stop me. It took a matter of some time and they were impressed with my confidence. They felt that I had become capable of raising my voice against the wrong and for justice. They are now encouraging my younger brother to attend the children’s parliament too.”
Today, Rohini leads the children’s parliament, which was started by the Centre for Social Action (CSA) in 2010. She had joined the group in 2012. She says, “Initially, I thought this was a place to come and play. But in the parliament, we began realising our duties and responsibilities and that children do play a huge role in bringing about a change in our society. We learnt about what is wrong and needs to be spoken against. We made sure we preach what we learnt and also make others follow it, irrespective of their age since elders need to realise certain issues too and act accordingly.”
Rohini prefers the children’s parliament over her school because she feels that only bright and expressive children manage to progress in school, whereas in the parliament, everyone is given a chance. “I feel more confident. I also dress neatly and comb my hair before attending the parliament which I would not do earlier. I feel more responsible here,” she says.
Two years ago, the parliament tried to take action against an alcoholic man in the village who would beat his wife and children. The kids would also be irregular in school. Roshni, their tuition teacher and 30 children from the parliament visited the man’s house and warned him not to hit his wife and children, else they would approach the police and take forward the case legally. According to the teacher, the trick worked. “The man does not beat his children anymore. And now, they are becoming regular to school as well.” The children’s parliament had also conducted awareness visits to a police station, a local post office and an orphanage.
Rohini loves to go out with her friends and play. But recently, her parents have started asking her to stay put and study. “We tell them that as children, it is our right to play,” she says and her otherwise serious and thoughtful face breaks into a smile. Now that she is an adult, she notices that her mother treats her differently. “Earlier, I would be ordered to not miss tuitions and study. But now, my mother says that I must decide what I want to do,” she says, agreeing that the rights of a child and a recently-turned adult are different. Parents start allowing them more space as they start growing up and become mature adults. Their own rights and decisions are also taken into consideration rather than directly imposing something on them. She also thinks that humans are born with intrinsic rights.
Rohini has an aptitude for Mathematics and wants to teach the subject for which she plans to enrol in a teaching course. What are her marriage plans? Are her parents asking her to consider getting married now that she is 18? “No. I will marry later. In our community, girls marry at 27-28 years of age,” she says.
Writer: Urvashi Sarkar
Courtesy: The Pioneer