Aarti Kanwar, a 15-year-old girl from Raipura village, is no different than the children of her age. She studies in class 11 at a local government school, spends her free time studying, playing with her friends, and helping her mother around the house.
But for residents of Raipura village, in Alwar, Rajasthan, Arti is much more than just a young girl. Raipura is a Bal Mitra Gram (BMG), a project designed and implemented by Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF), founded by Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi.
BMGs aim is to create a child-friendly environment in the villages where children are free from the trap of child marriage, child labour, trafficking and other crimes, and ensure that children have a say in the decision-making the process.
The BMG model was implemented in Raipura in 2015, and Arti was the first Sarpanch (head) of the Bal Panchayat (Child Panchayat) of the village when she was in class seven.
In less than five years, she managed not only to ensure that every child in her village is enrolled in school and protected from child marriage but also managed to uproot the age-old social evil of casteism, deeply embedded in the society.
On coming in contact with the workers of BMG, she learnt about the rights of children and the negative impact of social evils in the society.
The first step towards success for Aarti was ensuring that the children of Banjara community living in her village were enrolled in the school. The children of this nomadic community usually worked as child labourers or reared cattle during the day before they were enrolled in schools.
“When I, along with other members of Bal Panchayat, went to convince the people of Banjara Community, they shouted at me and forced to leave. However, we did not give up and continued to pursue the children and parents. Finally, we were able to get these children enrolled in the local government school, Rajkiyakrit Uchcha Prathmik Vidyalaya, Raipura,” Arti said.
After making her village free of child labour and child marriage, Arti next challenge was to fight against casteism. Coming from the general category (Rajput) herself, Arti had to face resistance both in the society and her own house when she started to raise her voice against casteism.
“I started with my school. Earlier children of different caste used to sit in different groups and have lunch. We started by bringing them all together. The next step was to bring together all the communities of the village during festivals and eat together. Initially, my friends and I was scolded by my family, but later they understood what we were doing and supported us. Today, there is no casteism in the village,” she said.
Khushboo Sharma, another 15-year-old, of a neighbouring village Gopalpura has also proved to be a change-maker in her BMG.
In 2015, she became the secretary of Bal Panchayat and managed to 42 children, from Banjara and other communities, admitted to school. Today, she is proud to say that no child in her village is out of school.
“Today not a single child is working as a labourer and no underage child is being married off in my village. I, along with my friends also raised the demand to solve the water crisis in the school and managed to get a hand pump installed. Also, we raised a demand to the Sarpanch of the village to provide toys at the school,” she said.
Today, Khusbhoo studies in class 11 at a nearby private school where she is spreading awareness against child labour and child marriage as well. “My friends in the school go back to their respective villages and raise voices too. Lack of medical facilities is a major problem in rural areas. I want to become a doctor and help the villagers get free medical facilities,” she said.
While Khushboo wishes to pursue medicine, Arti wants to become a pilot, but if not, she would prefer to be a teacher.
“I want to ensure education for all, provide all facilities like uniform and books to the children and help them grow into better individuals,” Arti said.
(On December 10, 2014, Nobel Peace Prize was conferred to Mr. Kailash Satyarthi. The article has been written commemorating five years of Nobel Peace Prize)