Written by Sujata Shirke
Deputy Sarpanch Sushaant Anant Vyanjane, 14 years old, is in the 7th grade. He lives in Anandwadi Taluka, Shirur Anantmal, Latur district. A boy in 7th grade, deputy sarpanch? Yes. That’s right! Sushant is Children’s Gram Panchayat’s ( Balsnehi Gram Panchayat) Deputy sarpanch.
The spark in his eyes, his confident presentation of arguments, and his head held high; for a moment one would look at him in disbelief—even the adult Deputy Sarpanch wouldn’t be as good while putting their arguments forward. His body language gives an impression of the leadership skills he possesses.
Sushant shares that he was unable to understand Child Rights, Duties and challenges, but UNICEF’s Jagdevi Sugave madam (Master Trainer) helped him and several children in his village understand.
Sushant said that Sugave madam and Anusaya Prerak from UNICEF conducted workshops every Saturday and oriented them about Child rights, responsibilities, duties, challenges, etc. “They created awareness among them. After six months, they called all the children and conducted a Gram Panchyat election. “We now had a Sarpanch, Deputy Sarpanch, secretary and assistants in our Panchayat,” he said.
“In order to get maximum participation from children, we assigned them to the committees of their choice like Health, Sahniyantran, Malnutrition and Education committee.
Our Balsnehi Gram Panchayat is based on the following ideals:
1. Right to Life 2. Security 3. Participation 4. Education 5. Development”
So what was their panchayat’s goal?
“There were many issues in the village, e.g. open gutters and the spread of illness because of them, use of plastic, people would add waste to fertilizers which would be eaten by cattle, etc. We wanted to change this.”
First, they presented the issues in the village Panchayat, brought up the issue of the local gymnasium, which was closed. The panchayat fixed it and re-opened the gymnasium. Tiles were installed on open gutters, and disinfectants were added to water during monsoon. They also raised awareness about plastic waste. They went to every household to spread the message of plastic pollution. Messages like one should not dispose of plastic carry bags and the fertilizers and how harmful it is for the health of the cattle.
Not just that, the children’s Gram Panchayat also started penalizing people with a ₹20 fine for open defecation due to which people started using toilets. “Construction of toilets at home began like a sensation and gained a sense of competitiveness in the village. As soon as one person would get it built at home, the other would insist their parents build one at their home as well.” Balsnehi Gram Panchayat got the keys to the library from the Gram Panchayat and provided access to kids.
Meetings were held every weekend to discuss issues and decide what issues need to be presented in the Gram Panchayat meeting; one such issue was ‘no discrimination between boys and girls’. The Kids Gram Panchayat has 30 girls and 20 boys. Sushant also informed that an election would take place for the Bal Gramsabha after five years.
Along with studying in school, he helps his mother with farming and taking care of the cattle. He also helps the women in their household chores. He never had the attitude that as he is a boy, why should he do all of this? The way he spoke reassures us of the deep embedding of gender equality values. There was no feeling of superiority or inferiority associated with gender.
“It feels good when he articulates well and talks about issues, but he should also study. I feel proud of him when he helps us.” – Sushant’s Mother (Meera Vyanjane)
“Shushant is very active. He organized a Balak Melawa (Children’s fair) three villages. Information about child rights was given in the meets at Dhamangav, Daithna, and Anandwadi. Sushant is good at NetBanking and Samanvay. Sushant and his guide Anusayataai has been at the Aurangabad workshop. The workshop was about how to come to a consensus between GramPanchayat and Balsnehi Gram Panchayat, their rights, etc.” – Jagdevi Sugave.