Shishu Panchayat – Children’s participation for community building (by Vandana Bhagra, TOI, June 29, 2011)
When we talk about the role of media we associate it as being the watchdog of the democracy, similarly this new concept of Shishu Panchayat is seen as a model that will keep a check on the working of the local governance.
Started as a model concept in 2000 in the North-East, Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti (GSDS) an autonomous body under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Government of India, initiated a programme to promote children’s participation in tackling social concerns and taking well-informed decisions. Shishu Panchayats formed at the school level has a president, vice president, secretary, media secretary, cultural secretary and treasurer with each performing specific functions.
It was in 2003, that this idea was adopted in Himachal by the MS Panwar Institute of Communication and Management, Solan, and in 2008 it was introduced in two schools, Government Senior Secondary School, Oonchghat in Solan district and Central Tibetan School, Dolangi, in Sirmaur District as a pilot project. Seventy children each were enrolled under this programme who were then given formal training. Dr Brijender Singh Panwar, Director, MSPICM says “through training programmes, media communication tools such as wallpapers, comic strips, pictures and radio, children were encouraged to propagate the evils of the society such as smoking and drinking. Special training is given to these children on issues such as environment, female feoticide, agriculture, literacy as well as local concerns as this helps them in making informed choices and decisions in further promoting their cause”. He added, “We are also in the process of taking this concept to the institutions imparting Bachelor of Education and District Institute of Education and Training (DIET) in different districts of Himachal so that the perspective teachers may be trained as master trainers who could take this concept further in the schools of the states”.
In the initial stages of the programme children were made aware of the concept of panchayat and this form of governance through various orientation programmes and the Shishu Panchayat was conducted twice a month only. A grant of Rs 30-40 thousand is received from the GSDS, which is used for the training programmes, making panels, exhibition/promotional material as well as conducting quizzes, declamations and other programmes on Gandhian values.
The broad aims of this panchayat is to promote active and responsible behavior from the citizens; inculcate and promote Gandhian values; think critically and develop organizational skills; innovatively and creatively help in improving the present society; learn and educate about children’s rights and issues; as well as acquire leadership skills and take part in decision-making processes.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Persistent questioning and healthy inquisitiveness are the first requisite for acquiring learning of any kind.” Hence, the main focus of these Shishu Panchayat’s is to help understand the reach of media and its various tools of communication. By acquiring effective communication skills children can develop their thinking by further indulging in dialogues and deliberations to become an active part of the society. Media studies are now being introduced in 11th and 12th class curriculum and according to Dr Panwar, Shishu Panchayats should act as a community check on the rural society where as Media Literacy Clubs should keep a check in the urban areas.
Dr Panwar adds “this form of governance, Shishu Panchayat, runs parallel to the rural panchayat, while keeping a social check on its role as well as functioning. And since these children are from the villages itself, understanding and comprehension is quite easy. It also inculcates a feeling of leadership and empowerment among the youth, who experience a sense of belonging by the contributions they are making towards the society”.
Regular meeting are also organized by these Shishu Panchayats to review the workings of the previous year wherein success stories and future initiatives are discussed, which are taking place not only within the state but in other states as well.
“This concept is further being introduced in schools of Kinnaur, Kalpa, Rekong Peo, Kaza, Tabo, Khibber and other parts of Lahaul & Spiti. In this regard a report was also submitted to the National Council of Rural Institutes (NCRI), Hyderabad who are helping in establishing these Shishu Panchayat’s in other parts of the state as well. A grant of Rs 50,000 was sanctioned for Rekong Peo, while another Rs 50,000 is due for initiatives being taken in Sangla and Keylong”, Dr Panwar said. “Despite the fact that the grant received is quite nominal we ensure that this programme keeps running and training is an ongoing process. Another main problems faced is that transportation of material is quite expensive to remote places and rest whatever little is left is used for lodging and boarding of the members. At times teachers too are uncooperative as this means they too have to spend some time for learning new thing and teaching new models. Since ours is a new initiative we have yet to approach the Himachal government for any kind of financial support”.
But despite financial strains the MSPICM in association with the NCRI conducted a three-day media workshop at the Government Degree College, Reckong Peo in October, 2010, which was attended by 110 students from 12 schools of that region during which they were explained about the concept of the Shishu Panchayat and its role in community development. In December 2010, the Shishu Panchayat of Central Tibetan School, Dolanji collected money to start a small dispensary where first aid kit was made available for minor treatment and a health camp was also organized in March 2011.
A perfect example of interpersonal development is when the members of Dolanji Shishu Panchayat spoke with Shishu Panchayat members of Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Delhi and Karnataka through teleconferencing on issues of peace and environment in February 2011 under ‘Project Gitanjali’, Solan, where each group discussed problems being faced in their own states while giving suggestions on how to improve the situations. Such initiatives not only help in boosting the confidence of children who are gearing up to meet the challenges of the society but help in overall development of the society as a whole.