The younger a person is, more is the likelihood of him or her assimilating new ideas and thoughts. The motivation to learn, and the enthusiasm to do something different are extremely high. If the child's energies are harnessed then and channelised into some constructive activity, the effects are permanent. This very thought lies behind Bangalore-based Janaagraha campaign's recent ventures - Bala Janaagraha and Yuva Janaagraha. If the citizens of tomorrow are initiated into community building activities today, in all possibility, they will be sensitised and motivated in continuing with such positive exercises in their adult life too.

Courtesy, Chandrika, Janaagraha A Bala Janaagraha campaign meeting at Bangalore

Bala Janaagraha is all about actively involving children in participative democracy, and to teach them the fundamentals of a democratic society. It also highlights their role as citizens of this society. And it has set out to achieve these objectives by engaging children in the workings of the local government at their ward level. Gradually, the children imbibe the tenets of leadership, community building and teamwork, and in the process, the seeds of a capable and effective leadership for the future are sown. With this idea Bala Janaagraha was introduced to the students of five schools in Bangalore last year. The students, teachers and the communities had a fruitful interaction. The programme continues with communities and 21 schools from six wards during 2003-04.

The ideas are lofty, the objectives noble. But are children mature enough to understand how the government works and what exactly is expected from them? The organisers of the programme are confident that children will receive this concept very well. To aid them in this process, awareness building projects, games and role plays will be organised.

By initiating children into community building and participation today, Janaagraha is playing a role in creating sensitive and positive citizens of tomorrow.
Children in the age group of 10 to 16 years will actually be participating in surveying the ward and implementing simple community projects. A community partnership module has been designed to enable children to work alongside with members of their community on local issues and a student leadership module has been created for them to develop an understanding of their role as citizens. As they say, practical experience is the best teacher, and the Janaagraha community wishes to orient its youngest participants right into fieldwork.

But it is not only the young workers who are expected to chip in. The community as a whole has also been engaged as a partner in this programme. Accordingly, the various communities have been entrusted with the duty of co-ordinating the different schedules and providing monthly activity reports of the children involved in the exercise.

Janaagraha's efforts in including the younger generation into its mainstream do not end here. A programme for youngsters who are older than the Bala Janaagraha age bracket is already under implementation. The Yuva Janaagraha campaign came into formal existence with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on May 15 this year between Janaagraha, the Jain group of institutions and the Supraja Federation of Bangalore's ward number 50.

Yuva Janaagraha carries on the work started by the group for children. It hopes to create a situation wherein the youth does not feel alienated from the democratic process. If a degree of professionalism is injected into our democratic institutions, a healthy relationship between the citizens and the corporators of their respective wards can be achieved. And for this change to take place, the youth need to be involved in the governing process.

Taking a keen interest in this movement, the Jain group has assured a volunteer group of 12,000 youngsters from its college campuses within the next five to 10 years. Currently, 18 students from the Shri Bhagvan Mahaveer Jain College have already successfully completed one activity under the Yuva Janaagraha banner. During their summer holidays, these students compiled the basic geographic data of ward 50.

This is the first stage of compiling an extensive ward profile of all the 100 wards in Bangalore by Janaagraha, and the initial data collection provides a comprehensive survey of roads, properties and institutions in the ward. The aim is to bring out a living document of the demographic, historical, geographical and socio-economic data, which will serve as a valuable source of information for planning the development of the ward.

With the flagging off of these two activities, Janaagraha has put into practice its core belief of catching citizens young and making them understand the workings of democracy. Most importantly, it helps them realise how they can be agents of change in the society. Through these two projects, it is providing the younger generations with a platform to be involved and to evolve.