By Pratiksha and Sven:

Are the demands of youth in marginalized, politically sensitive areas different from those in cities? And is there a space for their voices to be heard? For some, opportunities don’t always knock on the door. To better understand their experience, and to overcome barriers which have led to exclusion of voices of youth from marginalized rural areas, Aparna Ravi and Sven Przywarra from the unManifesto team travelled to village Tilda near Raipur in Chhattisgarh to hold one-day ‘My Space – My unManifesto’ event on the role of youth and women in politics and governance.

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The unManifesto campaign attempts to understand people’s point of view to formulate India’s crowd-sourced youth manifesto on politics, policy and governance. The purpose is not only to include voices from cities and those of the urban youth, but also of youth from different communities and those from remote , rural and marginalized areas. This is achieved by mobilizing and engaging youth in the electoral process through specific participatory activities.

With the support of Ekta Parishad, the event was scheduled on 16th of November 2013, three days before state elections in Chhattisgarh. For over 20 years, Ekta Parishad has been mobilizing locals on issues of land, forest and water rights for equitable distribution of livelihood resources. As a result of the charged political environment and a strong people’s movement at the grassroots, one could find people highly motivated to voice their opinions.

In the event, members from ComMutiny – The Youth Collective (CYC) and Ekta Parishad inspired local youth into preparing an ‘unManifesto’– a manifesto of the youth. Participants were divided into small groups, and each group wrote down their manifesto demands. This process helped in accumulating demands which were localised and had prioritised regional developmental needs. Apart from participation of over 130 women and youth, about 30 new promises were collected. Participants were then given a list of top ten promises collected from the unManifesto journey so far and everyone voted for the top three. Some of the demands that featured high on the list of youth in Chhattisgarh were equitable distribution of land and a ban on alcohol consumption.

This manifesto was later presented to Janak Ram Verma, a local politician and Congress Party representative. Addressing the participants, he agreed with all the demands put forward by the group, and promised his support and assistance.

Arun Kumar from Ekta Parishad, Prayog facillitated the event. Addressing women and youth who had come from across the state, he said, ‘the country has around 50 percent of young voters whose participation during elections plays a very important role, therefore their demands have to be incorporated in election manifestos of political parties’. In line with objectives of My Space- My unManifesto, he went on to say that youth participation should not only be limited to voting during elections, but should be a year-long process so that policies and programmes can be comprehensively formulated keeping in mind their demands and needs.

Aparna from CYC presented some of the key demands which emerged during the Delhi event with more than 400 young people in August 2013, one of which was 35 % reservation for youth in local bodies, with a 33 percent reservation for young women within it. Lack of awareness about the legislature and governance prevents young people and women from standing up for their rights.

Motim Bai, the female sarpanch of village Biladi talked about how strict measures against corruption and a complete ban on alcohol consumption and sale should be included in manifestos of political parties. For Prashant Kumar, State Convenor of Ekta Parishad, PESA (Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996 which enables Gram Sabhas to self-govern their natural resources and Forest Rights Act should be properly implemented in Chhattisgarh. There was also wide-spread agreement amongst participants over formation of special provisions to bring stability in states with political unrest. Janaki Behan, a social worker from Gramin Vikas Pratishthan, voiced her concerns by stating that political leaders make a lot of promises during elections, but forget everything once the elections are over.

The workshop came to a conclusion with everyone singing the stirring song of Vinoba Bhave called ‘Jai Jagat‘ (Hail the World), which calls upon all laws to be based on justice, with everyone enjoying equal rights. This was perhaps an apt end to a very invigorating session. Listening to marginalized youth grounds our knowledge in their lives. They engage our attention by mingling their demands with the social and cultural elements of their lives. The youth are not just telling us what they want; they often participate because they believe that their involvement can awaken us to see more. By engaging each other, we continuously recognize that our lives matter. Discussions bring forth a response and this leads to emergence of commonalities in our lives.

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