By Keshav Gupta
Last year, we were contacted by the UNV India team to help with the training of DYCs and drafting the handbook for them to conduct Youth Parliament at the District Level. From that day till this edition, I have seen the project unfold and what was conceptual papers is now a real and very powerful experience—from meeting the DYCs and knowing about their districts to seeing the young participants who had journeyed from all corners of the country who debated so fiercely in the most fluent English and then in Hindi, and then negotiated an agreement in an informal session.
I came to the program thinking of shaping it as an “expert”, but today when I reflect upon it, I see how the program has reshaped me. It broke all my presupposed notions about the ability, interest and passion of the youth in addressing national and local issues. Most importantly, the young participants reassured me that the youth today is not just sensitive to problems but are also visionary about common values and solutions.
Coming from a background of having studied law and spending hours in various courts and judicial forums, I had already experienced the unpleasant nature of human behaviour. I had also been present in Nepal for Earthquake relief work and had just returned from Afghanistan when the UNV team got in touch with us. Having seen grassroots movements on socio-economic rights of the people in Bihar, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, I had come to see rural youth as helpless victims of circumstances, as I had seen in Kabul some time back. But all that changed when I got involved in the Youth Parliament Program of UNV India.
One of the most fascinating things I saw was how these participants despite coming from all the different places and long journeys came to one of the biggest urban centres of the world and managed to adjust to the place, to the setting and magically enough to each other and created a safe and enjoyable space for free dialogue. Their openness to see past identities and their confidence and aspiration to keep their opinion confidently before an unfamiliar audience makes me hopeful that the youth of the country will truly make the diversity of our nation a positive tool for collaboration rather than a divisive tool of oppression.
All that experience and subsequent friendships with many DYCs has taught me so much more about my own work and helped me shape a larger picture of what I want to do in my own life. Their creativity and will to find solutions to various problems which affect them at the grassroots level has inspired me to get more involved in “change-making” in my city, and it has helped me become an active stakeholder in my own community.
I am now more aware, optimistic and interested in learning from the rural youth rather than trying to teach them much from my side. I have also understood the potential of this huge army of inspired changemakers who have unending energy and passion towards leading the nation into a better, more inclusive, more accepting and collaborative and supportive safe space for everyone to thrive and celebrate the uniqueness of the diversity that is India.
About the author: Keshav is the founder of The Dais, a Delhi-based organisation working on building capacity with youth towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals, around the world. Holding a Bachelors Degree in Law and Economics, from the University of Delhi and having spent his time in courts and then classrooms and then grassroots with many community-based organisations in India and Nepal besides working as the Chief Advisor, Business Development and Civil Society Support to District Magistrate, Champawat, Uttarakhand. He has been awarded the Global Green Schools Award at Climate Change Change Week 2017, New York City and Karmaveer Chakra Award 2019. He worked with the District Youth Coordinators to build their capacity in organising the District Youth Parliament in 2018 and in preparing the Handbook for organising Youth Parliament at the District Level.