“Tomorrow is the first-time we’re going to vote. Which party should we go for didi?”
After a heavy dust-storm that bathed the city in dwindling eye sights and heavy heads, the sun was calming down with a saffron gaiety in the western sky. We had just about concluded a meeting with a bunch of youth volunteers of one of our working areas here in the capital city. Walking towards the invaluable Sunday of the week, we were waving our goodbyes to the people until the following Monday. One such was a group of three young boys sitting and chatting merrily in one of the cleaner corners of their compressed neighbourhood. I joined their enthusiastic conversation – of mundane businesses of life, about school and end-of-year College exams. Just then two of them popped up this question. The following day was the voting day for city elections. The question was followed by a lengthy discussion – of parties, of distribution of incentives to communities until a day prior to elections (be it the current elections of Municipal Corporation of Delhi or any other state-level elections), of the significance of secret ballots, of the role Election Commission, of the definition of democracy in Hindi etc.
I must admit I was stunned as much as pleasantly surprised to receive the question. It was as if so many answers were painted through that one single statement. This statement was not just a representation of youngsters wanting to know things around them; but was more about a group who is young yet conscious and highly keen to understand in-depth the processes involved in a democracy and it’s functioning; implying on a strong belief in making informed choices. They were all of 18years. But the excitement, the enthusiasm, and the eagerness to participate in a process, that would ensure a smooth functioning of the legislative system of their part of the city was nothing but beautiful.
Over the last few years, we have been striving to engage on issues mattering to the youth and vice-versa; with consciously designed participatory programmes. In the process, an endeavour has been into developing a deeper understanding of the factors that make the youth the frontliners of our work i.e. of nurturing a resilient urban community. Today’s conversation has indeed convinced me an inch further in pursuing this matter. Working with young citizens in today’s times is fundamental in it’s very nature. Elaborating this further, urban youngsters are adventurous and ready-to-nail-it of sorts. They are also the ambitious go-getters, in both personal and professional lives. Contrary to popular opinion, it has been a field-based experience that a large part of this generation is actually quite hard-working; with many of them pursuing a day job to run their families and a correspondence course by the weekends. Nevertheless, their hectic schedule has never stopped them from volunteering to mobilize their families and neighbourhoods; in initiating a republic day celebration or leading the routine Sunday cleanliness drive. During and after the floods of Kashmir valley three years back, a key news was missed to be reported by the national media, both print and electronics. That, groups of young men and boys were returning back to their villages even after rescuing their own families and ensuring their safety. They were risking their own lives, bringing many more lives to safer grounds; village after village. And this was awe-inspiring community-bonding exercise was indeed led by the youth. Such incidents cement the faith of a citizenry in the strength, commitment and fearless minds of the largest part of India’s population, the youth.
As the world walks into a new era of fortnight years through the numerous global frameworks on sustainable development, climate change, global urban development, Disaster Risk Reduction and many more; the role and need of youth in community development, in ensuring participatory processes and leading from the front would only be growing by the day. Beyond becoming community first responders, these young minds need to be partnered with – for nurturing a life with lesser risks and enhanced happiness.
Whoever wins the city elections this 26th April, such conversations with young hearts and bright leaders of tomorrow shall help us keep our faith strong and steady. Because after all, isn’t it the people who make the place?
On a thinking weekend
East of Delhi