White froth from boiling rice and lentils bubbles out of a colourfully painted clay pot resting on burning firewood.
As they spot this, 16-year-olds G. Nandini and S.H. Humaira Wajeeha quickly call over their friends, gather around the pot and shout: ‘Pongalo Pongal’.
This year, the ‘Pothu Palli Pongal’, organised by the Tamil Nadu Students’-Parents’ Welfare Association (TNSPWA), saw children from various schools — both government and private — and from Muslim and Christian families, celebrate Pongal with fervour.
The children and their parents took an oath to struggle for the Common School System, which envisions free and compulsory equitable education for all, and where governance would be decentralised and democratised to include participation of teachers and parents.
“On the eve, we wanted the children and their parents to celebrate the harvest festival and also pledge that they will place a demand with the Central and State government to bring in necessary constitutional amendments to Right To Education Act (RTE),” said Prince Gajendra Babu, advisor, TNSPWA.
The RTE act should be amended to provide free and compulsory education to children till they complete higher secondary education; it should be done through Common School System based on neighbourhood schools, he added.
S.H. Humaira Wajeeha, a class XI student of a private school, said she had no qualms participating in the celebration. “In a way, it is exciting to be here because I get to know the significance of Pongal festival apart from getting to eat yummy pongal and sugarcane,” she said.
Her mother, Muthu Amina said she sought to instil the value of unity in her child, which brought Humaira to the festival. “I want my daughter to know all the cultures and it may inculcate in her the importance of unity. And we took an oath because we, the parents, firmly believe in the concept of Common School System as the best one for our children,” she added.
G. Nandini, a student of Chennai Girls Higher Secondary School, said she felt thrilled about celebrating Pongal in a slightly different way. “I never thought my friends from other religions too would be happy to be a part of this.”