Its 4 p.m. on Friday in a neighbourhood in South Delhi’s Tughlakabad Extension and inside a small makeshift room away from the adult world, a mock parliamentary debate is in progress involving children aged between 10 and 13 – the age is purely based on appearance since many do not have a clue when they were born. These are the sons and daughters of the community outside which is largely comprised of Bengali migrant families who earn a living as kabadiwallahs.
The debate-- which is about the state of roads in the city -- is free flowing with kids switching often between their mother-tongue and Hindi. “Hamare sadak jakaas the…” says Taposi, representing the Opposition. She is quickly cut off by Rajesh, who has assumed the position of Leader of House: “You go and see how you left your roads. You won’t find any streetlights or good roads. It’s only us who have changed the situation after taking charge.”
After several back and forth, awkward pauses and the discussion veering off topic to mobile phones, hospital, “fashionable teachers”, bathrooms and one kid just rebutting with a loud “Aye!” the debate concludes with the ruling party having won the round. “Do you all realise that throughout the discussion you kept trying to divert the topic to something else?” asks Kevin, the coordinator who is conducting the workshop. The children, who are part of the Mannat Media Club, note the diversionary tactics used by most “netas” in power and nod their heads in unison.
The Mannat Media Club is one of five media clubs run by a Lajpat Nagar-based NGO Kid Powered Media (KPM) in places such as Shahdara, Geeta Colony, Dwarka and Malviya Nagar. “These clubs provide the best way to help the kids see the bigger picture. This is necessary when they are caught up with their day to day struggles,” says KPM’s program coordinator Jessie Hodges. “Through the methods we use, which is mostly playacting and speaking in front of a group, they can build the knowledge and confidence they need to change things in their community.”
Before the debate, pairs of children were asked to stand up before the group and pretend to be a politician asking for a vote. These lessons on governance were offshoots of a script that the children have already written over a series of workshops conducted by KPM and will soon be made into a short-film by the children themselves.
The script is simple and addresses important issues such as access to education, a teacher who will not permit a child to enrol late if she does not have the local MLA’s consent, an MLA who refuses to help and a social worker who provides the solution – an interesting and funny solution which also sees the smallest kid in the group, 10-year-old Liton, playing the father of the child.
The short film made by the children across the media clubs will be screened in different neighbourhoods in which KPM works. So will the film which will be made by the Mannat Media Club. “KPM has turned an old car into a theatre on wheels with a huge battery, inverter, sound-systems and a projector. All the films that are made by the children will be screened across the city in different localities,” says Jessie.