By Abza Bharadwaj:
Wisdom in childhood is rare. We either expect them to be passive followers being ignored and bullied or just spending their days of ‘innocence’ like they are supposed to. On the other hand there are millions of them in our own country trapped in a world of no freedom of physical and social mobility or choice, leading a marginal existence away from mainstream society. Amidst this cacophony, how often do we find a child having a firm opinion or even the wisdom to critically look at life? Not many and not often. But not many would also know about Payal Jangid, a teenager who not only did wonders for herself but is changing lives of the children around her. This ‘teenager’ has come a long way with her perseverance and awareness about the rights children like her have.
According to even the most conservative official figures, there are 4.9 million working children in the age group of 5-14 years. Human Rights Watch estimates that 40 million persons, including 15 million children are bonded laborers, and the majority of them belong to the underprivileged and marginalized sections of the society namely the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and the nomadic groups. The existing social evils invoke the need for awareness among parents, peers, local and political leaders of the community and children who have the utmost potential of being empowered and empowering each other like Payal.
Payal works in her village Hinsla along with other members of the children’s council to create a child-friendly society. As a child rights advocate, she pleads for children to come together and raise their voices against any injustices done to them. “Until and unless children themselves realise that they have some rights, they won’t feel unyoked. A child must have some agency which enables her/him to decide,” adds Payal. The 14-year-old has been responsible for stopping several child marriages and creating a drastic change in the mindset of people towards children. She has not just been actively involved in helping the children but also women twice her age in her village. Needless to say, there has been a positive change in the gender roles within many households of the village wherein women have now started voicing their opinions much more firmly.
“Every Sunday morning I take a walk around a sugarcane farm near my home. There’s a line of trees surrounding the farm. Each time I jog by this area, I see the same child sitting at the farm’s edge with a small metal cage sitting beside her. The cage, was an extension of her existence, symbolic of her subversion, her destitute, this cage is an embodiment of every girl in the village,” said Payal, who was also a jury member of World’s Children’s Prize from Hinsla, Rajasthan. She visited Sweden only recently for the event, and is gifted with tenacity which has continuously encouraged her to fight for child rights. She was also the second Bal Pradhan of the Bal Panchayat of her village in 2013, following which she got an opportunity to get engaged in community work through a mechanism which was set up by Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s (BBA) project BMG.
Payal’s village Hinsla is a Bal Mitra Gram or a (BMG) since 2012. A BMG is a village which not only involves the removal of children from labour and their enrollment in school, but simultaneously mobilises and empowers the whole village to advocate for their human rights, with particular reference to child labour and education among other issues. The most integral part of this concept is the participation of the children which also builds a wholesome relationship between them and their respective communities. The idea is to ensure the protection of rights of children through the engagement with and involvement of the villagers, the gram panchayat or the village council and local administration. As a part of this model, Bal Panchayat or a children’s council is also brought into being. So when Payal became the Bal Pradhan of this Bal Panchayat, she was made aware of her roles and responsibilities by BBA activists. Leadership and decision making were two paramount pillars of this arrangement which were exemplified by her.
As the Bal Pradhan of the village Payal has been executing a lot of field activities to empower children and women of her village. She carried out rallies and protests to engage various women’s groups and youth forums of her village. Ghunghat Pratha which forces women to cover their faces with a veil is a tradition which has been deeply embedded culturally. Not only does it exhibit a man’s supremacy over women but also puts on display an ancient that helps in perpetuation of the system of patriarchy, particularly prevailing in North India. Hinsla was no different from the rest of Rajasthan. Women were veiled and voices were unheard and child marriage was prevalent too. Payal, along with other children of the village, began her protests against the system of child marriage and Ghunghat Pratha. Within a year everyone could see the conditions changing. Women as well as children started coming out and voicing their opinions. People started getting more aware of their rights and duties. Eventually Hinsla became a child marriage free village and women too unveiled themselves. This was a victory for Payal.
In 2013, when people from the Swedish council had come to review her work, they were thoroughly impressed and thus, chose her as the jury for World’s children’s prize. She was ecstatic to get the news and was congratulated by each and everyone. While she was in Sweden she got the opportunity to meet other achievers like herself and got exposed to an environment that benefited her in many ways to continue on the path she had chosen for herself. “Out of everyone else, I was chosen to be the one who escorts the Queen to the event. It made me feel special,” says the 14-year-old.
It would only be apt to state that Payal who was an inspiration for the people of her village Hinsla before, has now become an inspiration for the entire world.