Sector: Yuva Mandal (Young Men's Support Group)
In a country where 73% of the population is under the age of 35, harnessing the energy of the youth is vital. India’s development and future lies in the hands of the youth as seen in the village of Gharther Bandi. The youth of this village were tired of the lack of development taking place in their village. Their voices were never heard by the Panchayat (local governing body) and nothing was being done to improve their economic and social condition. Existing roads were falling apart and many needed to be made. The villagers had to walk miles just to get enough water for the day. The village could not organize itself in order to receive any aid. Because there was no organized effort, the youth’s potential could not be tapped. As a result, the youth would waste time sitting along roads and playing cards. They took no responsibility for their households and personal development. Unemployment riddled the community and became a major problem.
When Kuldeep and Sunil started talking to each other about the village and what it needed, they became inspired to do something. They realized that if the villagers of Gharther Bandi did not take responsibility for the community, then nobody would. At first the youth were hesitant to join Kuldeep and Sunil, but once they saw their sincerity they too became enthusiastic. A significant amount of girls also joined this movement and became active members of the group. Word spread quickly about the youth’s plans to help their village by building roads and talking to the Panchayat. The village supported them fully. The group decided to call themselves the Chinmaya Yuva Pragti Club with their focus on pragti, or progress. Five years ago, with the help of CORD worker Shanti, the youth began holding regular monthly meetings.
Shanti discussed with the youth how they could get involved with government schemes to better their village. When Shanti could no longer work with CORD, Rashish continued guiding the Yuva Mandal. For many of these schemes if the youth came up with a portion of the money for a project the government would give them the rest. Using a 10-90 scheme, the youth would contribute ten percent and the government would contribute ninety percent. The youth took full advantage of this opportunity and decided to build a rain shelter near their bus stand and a tea shop. They rented out the tea shop to a member of the youth and collected rent from him each month in order to help fund the group’s various activities. This not only helped bring in funds, but also provided employment to one of their very own youth.
In order to come up with the necessary funds, the youth used their creativity. They held sporting events and village fairs in order to raise funds. With the support of the village they were able to come up with enough funds for the many projects they had planned. However, now that the youth had physically cleaned their village, they wanted to clean up village politics.
Gram Sabha meetings (for the villagers and the local governing body) occur at the village level every three months on a fixed date. These meetings allow villagers to voice their concerns and make positive changes. The meetings are meant to keep an open and transparent relationship between the villagers and the Panchayat. However, this was not the case in Gharther Bandi. The Panchayat Pradhan (President) neglected his duties and forged meeting minutes to meet quotas. His heart was not with the people leaving them with no hope to change their village. But the youth decided to put a stop to this corruption and planned to attend the next Gram Sabha meeting. When they arrived at the Panchayat Bhavan for the meeting they found it closed and the Pradhan was no where to be found. Angered by his behavior, the youth locked the Bhavan with one of their personal locks to symbolize the corruption and inaccessibility of the local government.
The youth felt invigorated and wanted to exercise their voice. When Ward Panchayat elections were coming up, the youth decided to put their support behind one of their friends, Shashi, who was of the Schedule Caste (marginalized caste). This way they would have more say in local politics and a direct link to the Pradhan. In many small villages in India, caste discrimination continues to persist. But Shashi proved his capabilities and drive to the villagers and won the elections for this designated position with the support of the Chinmaya Yuva Pragti Club.
Now the youth are taking advantage of many different types of government and institutional schemes to better their village and future. When the People’s Science Institute, an NGO based in Dehradun working on natural resource management and environmental issues, was training individuals on agricultural practices the youth wanted to send a representative. CORD, with the leadership of senior member Kaushalya, helped to lead an exposure trip to learn about Systematic Rice Intensification (SRI), organic farming techniques, and compost pits. Sanjeev, an outstanding youth, volunteered to learn and took part in the training. He brought home knowledge to the youth and other villagers on rice, wheat and vegetable cultivation. The agrarian based village benefited greatly from his experience and knowledge and were impressed that the youth were taking so much interest in the village’s welfare.
In addition to addressing village development, the youth also wanted to discuss and further their inner development. They made it a point at their monthly meetings to discuss moral topics. They also woke up early to sing bhajans and do their daily prayers. The youth also decided to do prabhat ferry where they went from home to home singing bhajans and chapters of the Bhagavad Gita.
Currently, the Chinmaya Yuva Pragti Club is planning a major sports fundraiser with the help of the Nehru Yuva Kendra, a government organization that encourages youth sports activities. With the funds, they hope to make improvements to their village and get involved in more government schemes. The youth of Chinmaya Yuva Pragti Club often come to the CORD Center for monthly follow-ups and share with other groups new possibilities for village development. This youth movement has been so well received that they are now planning on spreading to three other Panchayats. Despite the fact that many of the members are often changing locations, getting new jobs, going to college, etc., they still remain dedicated to the group. With the support of CORD, the Chimaya Yuva Pragti Club has changed the landscape of their village both physically and politically.