Twenty-two year old Sanjeev Kumar is sure to catch your eye in the crowd. Clad in all whites, and with a calm confidence in the air about him, he speaks with the ease of the most experienced and a much elder person. To the children of the entire Gansara panchayat in the district of Samastipur, (Bihar) he is Sanjeev dada, the solution to all the problems they ever face with school or with access to any right they are entitled to. To the village of Ahmedpur, he is their pride. The youngest candidate in the entire panchayat to become an elected representative of the local governance mechanism.
Sanjeev was first spotted when he was all of twelve, singing his way to glory while campaigning for his mother who stood for the elections at the local governance level that year. Not only was Sanjeev a great singer, but also a very confident speaker even at that age. He was inducted into the Children’s Group of his village created by Jawhar Jyoti Bal Vikas Kendra (JJBVK) – a project supported by CRY – Child Rights and You.
In a very short time, Sanjeev shone in his group by virtue of his amazing leadership qualities and was selected the President of the Children’s Group in his village. He went on to showcase extraordinary skills and led changes in various spaces where children were advocating for their rights. Under his leadership, the children’s group demanded infrastructural changes in their schools, better teacher-student ratio, spread awareness on issues like the ill-effects of child marriage and engaging in child labour and about the importance of education. He not only led the team to speak to the school authorities, or the government officials who were responsible for these changes, but also did not leave a single stone unturned to make sure the children in his village got proper schools to go to and the quality education that could change their lives.
“My mother, who did not really get an opportunity to complete her education and got married very early, owing to the tradition of child marriage in this part of the country, made it extremely clear to me that education is the most important thing in life. It not only helps break the cycle of poverty but also opens up our minds, gives us the exposure that is required to become better versions of ourselves. I have grown up wanting to make a difference to the situation of education in the area I live in. Today, my political identity helps me do just that. I make sure I use the authority in the right way to ensure that children do not remain out of school and to ensure that they get the schools they deserve,” says a buoyant Sanjeev.
If there is one thing that he is sure of, it is that he wants to become the voice for the children in his panchayat. “Every adult has a say in the way they envision their lives to be. They speak about their needs and their wants as they are the vote bank. Who will speak for the children if I don’t?”
Sanjeev has taken many a step to in the past one year to let children know that he is accessible, and always has time to hear them out. From making regular visits to schools to monitor their functioning to interacting with the School
Monitoring Committees to help schools deliver quality education, he has been active in solving practical problems. In an instance where the children were being charged a fee for issuance of transfer certificates, he intervened to point out that the service is free. In another, where rules were not followed in appointing the Head Master, his knowledge about the Right to Education came in extremely handy.
Talking about his journey, Sanjeev says, “When I got elected for the panchayat samity at the age of twenty-one, I never felt any pressure on me because of my age. I have been fighting for the rights of children since I was twelve, I have been advocating for and spreading awareness on issues that matter. My knowledge is not only based on theory and that’s why the people here love me and have a lot of expectations from me. Now that I have this position, I will definitely make sure that our children are happier, healthier and are provided with all the opportunities to dream, and dream big.”
Right to Participation being one of the core objectives that CRY – Child Rights and You and its grassroots levels partners work with, creating and nurturing active Children’s Groups in all its intervention areas is a focus area. This is a platform where children not only discuss important issues, course of action for various awareness programmes they conduct among their peer groups, a space where their talents are nurtured through various cultural programmes, but also a platform where their expressions, thoughts, and opinions find a voice.
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