By Mohammad Asif Siddiqui
The dusty road leading to Kamaliya in Madhya Pradesh’s Khandwa district comes alive with chants of ‘Jai Hind’ as children in full school uniforms head for a ‘Bal Sansad’ (Children’s Parliament) meeting in the village.
They walk towards the government higher secondary school where the Sansad is happening, open the locks of the school gates and start cleaning the place. Before you even realise it, the school building is spic and span!
For these children, school life is not all about fun and games. Bal Sansad has changed the perception of people around them. When they take up an issue, they make it a point to fight until their demand is met.
Take the case of their fight for ceiling fans at a middle school in Khargone district’s Sangvi village. Most of the government schools in rural areas have ceiling fans only in the rooms of principals and teachers. Thanks to Bal Sansad’s persistence, classrooms also have ceiling fans now. A second demand to build a school compound wall is yet to be fulfilled, but the Sansad is working to make it a reality.
In Baman Dokri, when a letter to sarpanch Amar Singh Jamre urging him to fix the road leading up to their school was not duly processed, the Bal Sansad members took upon themselves the task of fixing the stretch using loose soil and brick pieces. Seeing them toil, villagers also joined in. It did seem to have an effect on the sarpanch, who then promised to get the road repaired in the next round of maintenance work.
Strength in numbers
Bal Sansad is the brainchild of the Khandwa Diocesan Social Services (KDSS), which operates 1098 Childline services in Khandwa, Khargone and Burhanpur districts. Apart from its efforts to tackle child abuse and exploitation, Childline also seeks to ensure the overall mental development of children.
A total of 2,730 children are part of the 91 Sansads formed in selected panchayats in Khandwa, Burhanpur, Khargone and Barwani districts. Formed in 2020, Kamaliya’s Jai Mata Di Bal Sansad has 33 members — 19 girls and 14 boys. The Sansad members elect its ‘prime minister’ and ‘ministers’ of education, environment, law, water and sports, all aged between eight and 14 years.
The poll process is pretty simple. Three meetings are held to lay down the rules and inform members about the eligibility criteria. Once the names are finalised, voting is held by show of hands.
The ministers assign work to Sansad members and oversee the same. ‘Environment Minister’ Saloni Dashrath said Bal Sansad members planted over 100 saplings in a plantation drive held in June. They have also set up a nursery in Kamaliya by making use of the nursery bags and seeds provided by the KDSS. Both fruit-bearing and medicinal varieties from the nursery have been planted throughout the village.
Bal Sansad members water the plants assigned to them while going to and returning from school. These activities have inclined them towards conservation in such a way that many of them have planted fruit-bearing trees in their courtyards.
‘Water Minister’ Riya Munsingh is a stickler for rules. “We children ensure that the village is kept clean and garbage-free. When a household near the government middle school in Kamaliya continued the practice of littering despite repeated requests, the Sansad members staged a protest in front of that house. The matter was resolved only after the village officials came to the spot and had a word with that family,” she said.
As campaigns to promote cleanliness and hygiene are very much on their agenda, Kamaliya panchayat has also taken steps to prevent littering by placing dustbins across the village.
Meanwhile, ‘Education Minister’ Khushi Subash Maskole has a daunting task at hand. With ‘Prime Minister’ Chanda Kanshiram Moyda and other Sansad members, she goes to every household in Kamaliya to check if there are any children not attending school. “In the current academic session, we managed to enrol three children,” Maskole said.
Social activities are part of Bal Sansad’s work. One such effort is the door-to-door collection of foodgrains. “We distribute these grains to the poor families in Kamaliya or hand it over to the KDSS for distribution,” Moyda told 101Reporters. Around 50 kg of grains that they collected during the ongoing rabi season will be used by the KDSS to cook meals for the homeless.
On future plans, Moyda said, “Our school has got a brand new sports ground, but a compound wall is the need of the hour. To this end, we have been writing to the panchayat repeatedly. The Sansad also envisions an alcohol-free village.”
Witnesses of transformation
Children have benefited tremendously through their association with Bal Sansad. “Not only do they attend classes regularly, but their academic and extra-curricular performances are also commendable,” said Dilip Singh Tomar, a teacher at Kamaliya government school. Hemendra Pawar, another teacher, noted that their communication skills have improved.
Villager Bahadur Suraj Jamre was all praise for the Bal Sansad members. “They are teaching good habits to adults. We now think twice before dumping waste or felling trees. They have a say in the panchayat, too!” Jamre said. He added that adults no longer feel offended by the children’s activities. “We are moved by their dedication. When needed, the villagers step in to help them.”
Bal Sansad members present their demands at the gram sabha meetings through their guardians. “They place their demands in writing before the panchayat with utmost politeness. They now want the main village square asphalted and a playground near the school developed. We will consider their demands on priority once the Budget is presented,” Sayri Bai Barde, the sarpanch of Kaveshwar gram panchayat in Khandwa block, told 101Reporters.
Bal Sansad member Priyanshi recounted how her father initially opposed her actions as part of the sansad. “I stopped participating in anti-littering drives after my father scolded me. Ironically, now I see that he himself has taken up the cause,” said Priyanshi, who later rejoined the drive.
‘Law Minister’ Krishnaraj has something similar to add. “I got thrashed when I urged my father to stop smoking beedi. Later on, he himself stopped smoking inside the house!“
Acknowledging the fact that rural children do not get as many opportunities as their urban counterparts do, KDSS director Jayan Alex told 101Reporters that Bal Sansad’s mission was to build self-confidence among rural kids. “The concept has worked because it has developed leadership skills in them. They get a better understanding of our vast democracy as well,” he said.
The KDSS field facilitators are actively involved in the formation and strengthening of Sansads. Project co-ordinator Sushil Francis said the plan aimed at teaching the participants that every child is equal and that everyone will benefit if they all worked together. Their involvement in an array of activities helps them gain confidence, besides making them better leaders. “The real development happens outside the four walls of the classroom,” he concluded.
Mohammad Asif Siddiqui is a Khandwa-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.