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A Tale of Two Lists: Green and Red

Manjula, Ima and Suresha - all aged below 18 - speak with a clarity about the coming elections that would put an adult to shame. These members of the working children's collective, Bhima Sangha, have an explanation for those who think that they are being a little too precocious: "We may not be old enough to vote, but we have every right to demand things of both voters and candidates. After all, it's a vote for our future."

So, as the election campaign gathers pace, the members of Bhima Sangha are all set for a campaign of a different nature. They are going to campaign among voters, urging them to vote for "good candidates", and not for those who lure them with money or a sachet of arrack. "Do you know that it's children who often fetch these sachets for their parents from party campaigners?" asks Suresha, the president of the Bangalore chapter of the Bhima Sangha. As rag picker, he has seen the seamier side of life at a very young age.

Meanwhile, the Bhima Sangha members are going to take a list of demands to the contestants too. The demands range from, "You should believe in democratic principles" and "You should disclose all your assets with honesty" to "You should not divide people in the name of caste or religion". Those who agree to these demands will go into the Sangha's "green list" and those who don't go into the "red list". These lists will be displayed prominently in the areas where the Bhima Sangha is active. "It is somewhat like the traffic signal. It gives a `go ahead' for those in the green list and a `stop' for those in the red," says Suresha.

But how sure are they that the candidates will honour these demands once elected? "You think we will let them be?" asks Ima, the Bangalore unit secretary. "We will pester them and make sure they do." She is as sure that they will not let any political party use them for their own purposes. "We are aware of these dangers and know how to handle it," she insists.

The larger aim of the Bhima Sangha is to ensure that children, specially working children, play an active role in the democratic process in this country. Manjula, the president of the State committee, says that the initiative is grounded in the success of their initiatives in Kundapur Taluk, Dakshina Kannada District, Karnataka. The Bhima Sangha units in the district work in tandem with the local panchayats. And together, they have been able to do a lot, including getting borewells dug, bridges laid, and schools sanctioned.

Manjula, who has just returned from a UN conference in Geneva on violence against children, says, "Our experience has taught us that change is possible, at least in small ways." The Bhima Sangha's effort has inspired the National Movement of Working Children to think of similar campaigns in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh too, she adds.

Copyright 2000 - 2004 The Hindu
Source: The Hindu:
Date: April 18 2004