By Somya Dimri:
“I will try to solve problems of my friends and ensure that everyone gets equal opportunity to participate in school events”, said Kushnaaz Begum (13) of 8th standard in Al- Azhar foundation school, as soon she was elected the new head girl of her school. As a part of their human rights education, this student council election was by far one of the most exciting moments of my life, no less than the 2014 general elections.
Kushnaaz along with twelve other students had been contesting the school’s second student council election. A week before the Election Day, I heard one of the students saying, “This time the 9th standard girl will win, it looks like this only”. The excitement and the thrill of the election was in the air with students speculating who would win. Their enthusiasm was contagious and one could see the spark of democracy and the responsibility that the students were getting ready to shoulder. After the results were announced, Mohd. Salauddin (12) of 7th standard, who had not been elected, said, “I will try next year again and will do more campaigning… Inshaallah I will be head boy next year. I will do good work.”
Al- Azhar foundation is an NGO run school located amidst a largely Muslim neighbourhood in South Bangalore. The school has been working with Amnesty International India’s Human Rights Education programme for the last two years now. This was the second year of the school’s student council elections, a concept it had adopted as part of the programme.
Imrana, a teacher in Al-Azhar said, “This year, the students themselves came up and gave their names for nominations, unlike last year.” She added, “Last year the student council came up with the idea of a suggestion box and we actually received bullying complaints through the box. The issue was addressed by talking to the students and teachers. The student council had an important role to play in this.”
Bullying in schools has serious mental and emotional health effects on both the victim and the bully. 96 per cent participants in a survey in Delhi claimed that bullying is of a significant concern in educational establishments (Fortis survey). A study of 150 schools in Mumbai found that 70% students experienced bullying but only 20-40% reported it.(Parents association, Mumbai)
An idea like a student council can make such a difference in the school system. Children can suddenly feel empowered – the feeling that they have the right to be heard makes all the difference.
Informed decision making, enabled by democratic student council, can give a fresh perspective to prevent bullying in schools. A small step towards democratic governance in schools can be a stepping stone towards ensuring human rights for all.
Believe a human rights module like this should be enacted in every school to prevent bullying? Help us take this to 100 schools by this year!
About the Author: Somya Dimri is a Program Officer for the Human Rights Education program at Amnesty International India.