Empowering children for active citizenship
Rama Errabelli

I was standing in a queue at a pharmacy, when a man cut the line, and walked confidently up to the counter, stuck his hand out, expecting the pharmacist to fill his prescription. A foreigner, waiting patiently in line for his turn, called out: "excuse me, sir, there's a line here!" To this, my fellow citizen turned around and said: "what line? No line in India, only line in America!" And turned back to the counter.

Extremely embarrassed and offended at the man's response, I walked up to the counter and requested the pharmacist not to attend to him unless he joined the line. The pharmacist firmly requested him to join the line. But when the man pressed on, insisting that "there are no rules in India", the pharmacist gave up and filled his prescription.

Several situations like this have arisen before, but this time the incident really annoyed me. Initially I was concerned about the man's irresponsible response. But as days passed, and I recounted the incident to my family and friends, two things began to bother me. The first was the pharmacist's "let us get this over with and move on" attitude, and the second — no one else in the line objected to the man's disregard for the people waiting their turn.

I was, and continue to be, deeply concerned by this attitude. What makes us so numb that we do not even respond? Is it the "I cannot change him, why should I bother?" attitude or is it "what is the big deal?" Swalpa adjust madi or just "let someone else take care". I believe it is deep-rooted apathy.

How do we teach our children and ourselves that being silent spectators will not solve our problems? How do we confront this apathy and engage as "active citizens" of our society? How do we develop a deep sense of belonging to address the challenges that face us? How do we inculcate respect for our fellow citizens, respect for the society, the nation?

The answer is quite clear. We need to teach our children social and moral responsibility, the idea of citizenship, from an early age. Children have to be empowered with knowledge, skills and values that will guide them into being active citizens. To strengthen the values taught by parents, schools too must teach children — honesty, integrity, fair play, service and respect for fellow citizens. Schools can also play a crucial role in nurturing active citizens by focusing on building skills in children. Skills that will make them confident to effect change. Skills to think analytically, communicate effectively, solve problems and make decisions.

Finally, schools play a key role in empowering children with knowledge, and motivating them to actively engage in the concerns of the society. Children need to be taught their rights and responsibilities, and to understand how the various public institutions like the government functions. Schools can build awareness and sensitise children to important civic issues in their communities, and encourage them to explore solutions to those issues.

One cannot lecture to children on the idea of citizenship. Citizenship values, skills and knowledge can be cultivated only through practice. Classrooms are a perfect place for this learning to take place. Over the past five years, Janaagraha successfully introduced Bala Janaagraha, a practical citizenship education programme for children, to nearly 15,000 children in schools across Bangalore. Through interactive classes and project work children are empowered with the knowledge, skills and values necessary to shoulder the responsibility of citizenship.

If we "sow the seeds of citizenship" in our children today, then, it won't be long before there is a scenario where if a person breaks the queue, every one in the line will protest, the counter in-charge will insist that he will not be served unless he joins the line, and the man understanding what he has done, will graciously move to the end of the line.

(The writer is Coordinator, Bala Janaagraha, Janaagraha)

Comments (2)

On July 22, 2008 at 3:34 PM , utkarsh mankad said...

i'd thank Neha dee,for putting up such a eye opening article.'d love to comment,the active citizenship is helping to bring back the lost faith in people that if something wrong is happening,it can't be changed.i agree with what the author has said,and its only the youth that can bring in the change,in youth there's nothing impossible,,if this energy is channelised,it can do wonders.thanks again

On August 1, 2008 at 5:52 PM , Vivek.k said...

i have one same incident to tell you .. recently i went to JDA E-Mitra to deposit the bill there was small queue and i joined the queue but soon one guy came a little bit of dada type and told the counter guy to take his bill and deposit it , but one of the uncle opposed him and also called the guard and guard told the inside guy to take bill in queue but the guy who was jumping the queue asked him to take his bill else he will do something and he was also indulged in some conversation with uncle. i was looking at all this and wanted to oppose but i had limited time to indulge in such dialogs, then at last he warned the inside guy and the he deposited his bill, but what i said to the guy who was taking the bill is that u wasted so much time in conversation ad in that time all of the bills can be deposited, My concern over this is ok im ready to oppose this when im in queue and also encourage others to oppose such persons , but what if it turns violent and somebody is injured then who would take responsibility for this. no body wants to get into violence or hurt himself and to put family in trouble.and such guys who do so have no fear.