Panchayat president grilled by children
: It’s Sunday. Boys play cricket on the village green. But inside the community hall at Sambakudi, a Children’s Parliament is in session.
Pudukulam Panchayat President, P. Muthuramalingam, is the chief guest. He fields questions thrown at him by students drawn from three villages – Pudukulam, Sambakudi and Velchamy Nagar — that fall under his panchayat. The panchayat president is distinctly uncomfortable. The students have put him in the dock. A boy from Velchamy Nagar asked why he promised to carry out mosquito repellent spraying only if the students paid the workforce.
Mr. Muthuramalingam was taken aback. Until that moment, he had been lulled by appreciation for his efforts to clear the garbage from public spaces. With scores of children from Vellaripatti, Sittampatti, Othakadai and Narasingampatti packing the spectators’ gallery, the panchayat president reached for the microphone.
Addressing the Prime Minister, S. Aravind, he asked, “Did you not volunteer to pay the workers’ wages. Did I ask for money? It was you who said that you could spare some money for the wages. But now I am accused as if I demanded the money.”
He added nervously, “Don’t worry. Whether the mosquitoes die or not, I will ensure that the repellent is sprayed by next week.” There was amusement among the students.
The President of Nagamalai Pudukottai Panchayat, K.C.P. Jayakumar, joined them. A part of Sambakudi village falls under his panchayat. The students raised the issue of a TASMAC liquor shop that was located close to a school and the nuisance posed by “drunkards”.
The Prime Ministers of the three villages made a formal representation to Mr. Jayakumar with a plea to have the shop relocated. The students also expressed the fear that one more liquor shop was proposed to come up near the school.
Mr. Jayakumar promised them that he would stall the proposal of bringing the second liquor shop at Tiruvalluvar Street, and take steps to shift the existing one.
This is an example of participative democracy at the grassroots, and it is bringing change to the villages. Ever since the Children’s Parliament was formed, children have emerged as the agents of change. This is largely due to the efforts of the members of a Children’s Club promoted by Arogya Welfare Trust, an NGO.
“We have been working with these children for the last one year. Initially, we provided basic training on life skills such as creative and critical thinking, team-building, leadership qualities, trust building and problem solving and so on. Once the children picked up these skills we formed the Children’s Parliament,” said S. Rajesh, the coordinator.
Every member of the Parliament is a member of one of the teams under the Ministers and works on selected areas in the village. The Parliament meets once a week. The students take up voluntary work in the village, such as clearing the streets of garbage. Every detail of the sessions and work taken up is recorded in separate registers and reviewed by the coordinator once a month.
“We have made these children realise their potential. They now know their rights,” Mr. Rajesh said. The Children’s Parliament could well emerge as the role model for its adult counterpart.