When The Young Speak Out, Paint, Fly…

By Alka Gadgil

Mumbai: The room was awash in blue—blue balloons, blue ribbons, children and activists all dressed up in blue… very special hues of blue. In the background hung a poster urging the young ones gathered to ‘Fly and Go Blue!’

Why blue, one might wonder? It’s the colour that UNICEF picked to thematically mark Children’s Week which kick-started on November 13, 2018, with an event at Mumbai’s St. Pius X College. Siddhi Gheewala, 25, who is a facilitator for NineisMine, a participatory children’s advocacy initiative convened by the NGO PRATYeK, explained the idea behind adopting blue as the colour for symbolizing children’s rights and aspiration, “Blue represents both the sky and the sea, and is associated with open spaces.”

Blue is also the colour that spells freedom, intuition, imagination, expansiveness, inspiration, and sensitivity; it reflects values like depth, trust, loyalty, sincerity, wisdom, confidence, stability, faith, heaven and intelligence.

NineisMine, Charkha, Centre for Social Action, (CSA) and Sampark have partnered with UNICEF for organising the celebrations that conclude on November 20, observed as World Children’s Day. The day marks the anniversary of the date that the UN General Assembly adopted both the declaration and the convention on children’s rights.

Children are the future of the country—this is an oft repeated statement. However, the youngsters who had gathered at St. Pius X College shared a whole new perspective on this belief. “We are the present, the ‘now’ of the nation; invest in us,” declared one teen, boldly, during the round of introductions held at the start of the arts workshop where 25 participants, between 12 and 17 years, were asked to tap into their inner artist to paint their thoughts on ‘school’, ‘play, ‘fly’. They were associated with the NGOs, PRATYeK, Vidhayak Bharati, Jeevan Dhara, Pratham, Prerana Centre for Social Action and Navjeet Community Centre.

As the facilitators distributed fresh white paper, brushes and a palette of vibrant colours, excited children got thinking on what they would make. While initially most toyed with their brushes and paper, enjoying the feel of their brand new painting tools, soon many of them were engrossed in giving an outline to their ideas. A few sat quietly with the paraphernalia waiting for inspiration to strike; some even approached a facilitator for help, asking, “What should I draw? I’m not getting any ideas.”

Whereas the first part of the workshop was devoted to letting loose imagination and creativity, after a short lunch break the artworks were put on display, as their enthusiastic creators geared up to talk about them.

“In my painting I have depicted birds, which represent children, being set free from cages. The idea is to illustrate the fact that whereas their parents never got the opportunity to stand up for their rights or enjoy the freedom to pursue their dreams and fly high—time and again, society kept clipping their wings—but they make sure that the same injustice doesn’t happen with their beautiful offspring. I have shown how parents—and even society—can enable their daughters and sons to fly high and be free this children’s day,” said Sayali Parkhe, 16, animatedly.

 

Saddam Agha, 14, came out as a staunch advocate for girls’ education. Talking about his convictions, which were clearly reflected in his art, he said, “I believe that each person, whether rich or poor, should get equal support to realize their capabilities and fly. I have a dream and I want to have the freedom to make it a reality. Likewise, everyone has the right to peruse their dreams. Unfortunately, girls don’t have the same kind of independenceas boys do to dream big. Society asks them many questions: ‘Why do you need to study? What is the use of education for you? Chulha chauka toh sambhalna hai (you only have take on the household chores and care for the family). Why do you want to waste your time on studies? Moreover, under pressure from their communities, most parents, too, compel their daughters to discontinue their schooling. This attitude has to change.”

Batting for the rights of children living in the hinterlands, Aftab Mulla, 15, urged, “Kids in the villages, too, have the right to quality education. But that is not the case even today. We hear of schools closing down in rural areas because there are no teachers. City children, on the other hand, have it all—better schools, many facilities. Rural children should have the right to fly high; if they get the required support then they can reach for the skies as well. Don’t clip our wings; each child wants quality education, everywhere.”

Questioning gender inequality in her painting, Vishakha Gharat, 17, said, “I don’t accept inequality. Period. Girls have every right to realize their potential and achieve their goals. But society is rarely supportive; in fact, it tries to box you.”

Voicing his objections at treating children simply as “future” citizens, who needn’t necessarily, have much to contribute to the present, Vishnu Naik, 14, stated, “Even children are full-fledged citizens. If you invest in our present only then will we be able to accomplish something in the future.” Interestingly, Naik’s confident declaration was backed by knowledge of state policy: for instance, he was fully aware of the government spending on education.

Creative.Confident.Conscious. Courageous—the young people who got together to paint their vision of ‘school’, ‘play, ‘fly’ had a lot of pertinent observations to share. It’s time families, communities and the nation sit up take notice.

(The names of children have been changed to protect their identity.)

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