Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Report of the Second National Youth Convention held in Bhilwara, Rajasthan (India)


The two-day Second National Youth Convention was organised by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghathan (MKSS, Rajasthan), School for Democracy, Josh (New Delhi), Rojgaar va Soochna Ka Adhikar Abhiyan and Loktantrashala. It was held in Sanmati Vatika, Bhilwara, Rajasthan (almost 505 km. away from Delhi) on 21st and 22nd February, 2009. Participants came from different parts of India (both rural and urban), and also from abroad (New York City, United States, Germany et al). The presence of young students from reputed colleges and universities such as Lady Shri Ram College, IIM Indore, London School of Economics etc. made the Convention a special one. Urban youths had the opportunity to interact with their rural counterparts during the Convention. Shri Vipul Mudgal and Mr. Shambhu Ghatak attended the Convention on behalf of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS, Delhi, http://www.csds.in/). Some of the persons they came across were: Dr. Muzaffar Bhatt and his teammates from Kashmir, Mr. Bijoo (specialist in community radio from NYC, US), Jaydeep Mandal (Indus World School of Business, www.iwsb.in, Disha e-cell, Noida), Aruna Roy, Nikhil De, Shankar Singh and Bhanwar Meghwanshi (from MKSS) et al. The first Convention was held in Beawar, Rajasthan during 2008.

While entering the venue, one could observe the slogans meant for spreading awareness about the Right to Information (RTI) Act and the National Rural Employment Guaranty Scheme (NREGS). Some of the slogans went like:

“Hamara Paisa, Hamara Hisaab”

“Prem Se Kaho Hum Insaan Hain”

“Har Hath Ko Kaam Mile, Kaam Ka Pura Daam Mile
Budhape Me Aaraam Mile”

“Jeene Ka Adhikaar, Jaanne Ka Adhikar”

“Saare Desh Ka Naara, Kaam Ka Adhikaar Hamaara”

“The Corrupt Minority,
The Silent Majority
Who Will Break This Silence”

The presence of a mobile RTI van (carrying the Mahiti Adhikar Helpline: 09924085000) from Gujarat so as to create awareness among citizens certainly became an object of attraction.



Day I: The participants arriving from different parts of India with diverse backgrounds introduced themselves on the first day at the beginning of the Convention. A satirical song on corruption in India titled ‘Kukroo Kukroo Chaal Mari Murgi, Kukroo Kukroo Chal…’, followed this. The first session comprised of speakers like: Mr. Vijender Keshri (All India Students Federation-AISF, Delhi), Mr. Pawan Godara (Youth Congress, Rajasthan), Dr. Muzaffar Bhatt (Kashmir), Ms. Aheli Chowdhuri (Josh, Delhi), Mr. Narayan Singh (ex-Sarpanch, Rajasthan) and Shri Ramlal ji Jat (MLA, Congress). Mr. Bhanwar Meghwanshi acted as the anchorperson during this session.

Ms. Aruna Roy praised the audience, for their participation in the Second National Youth Convention. She said that the significance of holding the Convention just before the Parliamentary elections, to be held in 2009, couldn’t be undermined. She informed about the plight of women in India and the rest of South Asia owing to gender and religious norms. She criticised the incident when Sri Ram Sene members harassed women and girls for going to pubs in Mangalore. She welcomed women as leaders to ensure gender equality. She mentioned about the prevalence of caste-based discrimination in various parts of the country that seriously threatened dalit rights. Casteism and caste-based discrimination exists across religions (Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Christianity) and regions (India, Nepal and Bangladesh), she informed. She attacked communalism that created rift between the people on religious basis. She emphasized upon the need for promoting democracy. Dr. Muzaffar Bhatt, who hailed from Kashmir, and is working for the new RTI law to come into being in that state, was introduced by her. She appealed for an impartial legal system. She asked to rethink about India’s educational policy in the context of global meltdown, which has affected youths and their employment opportunities. Feudal basis of Indian leadership was criticised by her. She ended with the slogan: “Yuva Aap Aage Badho, Desh Tumhare Saath Hai”.

Ms. Aheli Chowdhury informed that urban youths stay away from politics since politics do not attract them anymore. She welcomed the active participation of urban youths in the Convention. She hoped of learning a lot from the Convention.

Dr. Muzaffar Bhatt told that 60 years back people used to join politics for serving the people. But with times changing, corruption has ruined politics, particularly after the 1970s. There is utter need for changing the structure of politics, where political and social education can play crucial roles. Perception of people towards politics needs to be changed. He informed that the level of unemployment is quite high in Kashmir. According to the Transparency International, Kashmir is considered as one of the most corrupt state. The RTI Act that has come into being in Kashmir is considered as one of the weakest laws (which falls under Article 370). Human rights violation is quite high in Kashmir. In the early 1990s, there used to be 12,000 terrorists (read militants) and 8 lakh army personnels residing in Kashmir. Although the number of militants has come down drastically over the years, the number of army personnels still deployed in Kashmir boils down to 8 lakh, which is the same as before. India spends a lot on defence despite facing the problems of starvation deaths and malnutrition. He considered the Interim Budget 2009 that has increased defence spending by 34%, remorseful. He invited the youths to enter politics in order to take care of the country and manage it well. The issues and problems facing the country are needed to be resolved. Since the poor too pay the taxes, hence the government should be accountable to the poor, he added.

Mr. Pawan Godara described youths as a generation having josh, energy and stamina to work. He informed that young people are doubtful about politics. He said that he hailed from a farming family. Politics has been adversely affected by corruption. There is a need for good persons joining politics, he said. Young persons coming from poor families do not find ample time to think politics as an alternative career. He asked for changing the political fabric of the nation.

Mr. Vijender Keshri said that the Convention was held at a time when elections are approaching, and they are going to be held in a short while (i.e. almost two to three months from now). He asked the audience to think about the pitfalls associated with privatisation of education. He informed that democracy is the opposite of feudalism and autocracy, which used to exist during the British times. Kith and kin relationship has affected politics badly. Young people are afraid of joining politics, he said. People like the Ambanis (business family) are getting richer and they spend a whole lot on conspicuous consumption. Attacks on women in pubs of Mangalore city by the hooligans from the right-wing Sri Ram Sene was criticised by Mr. Keshri. The entire system is running without a single change since ages, he informed. Casteism, political opportunism and communalism have impacted political parties badly. Politics without ideology posed a big danger, according to Mr. Keshri. Development without any ideological support is never possible. He complained that political parties do not talk about social and cultural changes. There is need for shunning the belief that good students should not enter politics. The Lyngdoh Committee Report, which has recently put curbs on elections being held in major universities of the country, was criticised by him.

Shri Ramlal ji Jat informed about the problem of corruption in India. He thanked Mr. Bhanwar Meghwanshi for inviting him. He said that people are not aware of RTI Act. He started as a young politician, and found later that a lot of money was being spent during elections. Huge expenditure during election times has contributed to corruption, Ramlal ji added. At the grassroot level, political parties are helpless in imparting training and education to their members. Although political parties bring out their election manifestos, yet people do not go through them for checking the credibility of the candidates. Due to lack of awareness and training, people have not received the job cards in the case of NREGS. Names would be missing in the voters’ list despite possessing voter’s identity card. Widows do not receive pension due to inefficiency and corruption. Ramlal ji supported the move by Mr. Ashok Gehlot, Chief Minister of Rajasthan, for condemning consumption of alcohol since that leads to moral degradation of the society at large. He said that drinking affects the character of an individual.

Mr. Narayan Singh, an ex-Sarpanch, who fought and won a panchayati election in the past by spending a mere sum of Rs. 800, said that it would be wrong to say that the youths are misguided and directionless. He informed that unemployment among rural youths is considerably high, which is a matter of grave concern. Despite the distribution of election manifestos that promises a lot, people and villages lack basic facilities. Indebtedness among young people is quite high. The present Convention has given one the time to rethink about the future of democracy, where youths have a role to play, he told. Politics nowadays cannot be distinguished from business because of the involvement of money. It has become increasingly difficult to contest in elections without ‘money power’, he added.

At the end of first session on Day I, the audience was invited to express their viewpoints. Mr. Shahnawaz from Kashmir expressed his resentments over the way human rights are abused in Kashmir on a day-to-day basis. He said that freedom is yet to arrive in Kashmir. A few persons from the audience felt that it was wrong to undermine the youth force. Some demanded for government sponsorship during election campaigns so as to put curbs on excessive usage of money and muscle power. Mr. Om Prakash Gupta asked for vigilance of the money spent during election campaigns. Mr. Lal Singh (MKSS) demanded for freedom at the mental level.

The second session of the Day I comprised of workshops on various topics. The key resource persons for various workshops (that were held separately) are available below:

RTI and Youth (Ms. Pankti, Lakshman, Khimaram, Roli Singh)
NREGA (Hari Om, Ramlal Acharya)
Dalit, Adivasis and Migrant Labourers (Parashram, Daulat ji)
Vigilance during Elections (Vijay Goel, Anil Behrwal, Kamal Taak)
Law, Justice and Police Force (Devbrata, Mayank, Kailash)
Forest Rights (Bhanwar, Devdulal)
Right to Education (Teja Ram,Kiran Bhatti)
Gender (Dr. Renuka Pamecha, Dr. Vinita Srivastava)
Globalisation, Agrarian Distress and Displacement (Jan Vikas Morcha)
Career (Jaydeep Chokar-ex Dean, IIM Ahmedabad)
Security, Terrorism and Minority and Human Rights (Muzaffar Bhatt, DL Tripathy, Suroor)
Media (Shri Vipul Mudgal, Pramod Tiwari, Bhanwar Meghvanshi)
Mask and Puppet (Ramnivas, Punaram)
Drama (Shankar, Shiv)
Film and Photography (Bata, Virendra)
Cartoon and Posters (Uday Prabhakar, Gulzar, Santosh)
Dance (Malavika, Aruna Roy)
Karate (Mohd. Kaish)

Minutes of the Workshop on Media

Mr. Vipul Mudgal, who was the resource person for the workshop on media, explained his group about the relationship between media and democracy. He said that there was a time when young people believed that social revolution could bring structural changes in the society. During the 1970s, emergency was announced by the Indira Gandhi led Congress government against which all the political parties fought including the right wing ones. Elections are held in a fairer way compared to before, he informed. However, there are places where people are unable to cast their ballots. Media has always been free in India and raised important issues including corruption. Media was termed as the fourth pillar (read Fourth Estate) of democracy. However, media enjoyed limited powers because it had its own limitations. Apart from the public and political spheres, there are other spheres too. In fact, society is comprised of different organized and live spheres. Every sphere (or institution) wants to put its best foot forward when it comes to dealing the rest of the society. The spokesperson of a particular sphere has his/ her own way to deal with the society. Within the liberal framework, each and every sphere wants to maximize its own gain. There are conventional and unconventional opposition groups within a particular sphere. Despite having good spokespersons, the need for public relation agencies has become crucial. Within the US, public relation agencies work in tandem with the army. Spin doctoring is often used to change the image of a politician or a particular political party. But it has also led to disproportionate image making and publicity. Kennedy and Nixon’s election campaigns were entirely based on media war. ‘Rose garden diplomacy’ by President Reagan was used to attract and appease the media persons and journalists. Image making started in India a long time back. There is a constant tussle among various information to realize into news. Providing news is similar to story telling. Often news or information provided by activists appears like pamphlets. It is essential to engage the readers in reading interesting stories instead of boring pamphlets. In a liberal democracy, media can be used effectively to communicate and convey the meaning. The relationship between activism and media do not always work well. The readers and not the editor, decide the content and fate of a newspaper. If certain newspapers are more accustomed to carrying news item on sex, violence and murder, then it has be blamed upon the readers. But one must know that media, like law, tries to normalize the deviances of the society. The world comprises of ‘order’ and ‘disorder’, and certain newspapers are more into publishing the ‘disorder’. The non-aligned new school (that falls under media studies) came into being as a critique of capitalist media. Though public service broadcasting is required, but it cannot totally replace or eliminate newspapers run by various groups or conglomerates. While answering to Mr. Ashim’s (participant in the workshop on media) remark on media’s dependence on advertisement, Mr. Mudgal said that the newspaper agencies rely upon capitalism in order to sustain themselves. Supply and demand for information and news do matter when it comes to content generation. Readers and audience play a critical role when it comes to content production and dissemination. The hard and fast rule of capitalistic mode of production of information needs to be understood, he added. While speaking on the accountability of media and their editors, he asked for better regulation and deconstruction of media without affecting creativity. Global meltdown has recently affected the media and they are increasingly relying upon government advertisements. In the US, the business reporters are required to disclose their assets for transparency. Reporters in the US criticize the corporates more in comparison to their Indian counterparts. There is a need to make the media accountable to the citizens. News reporting is a difficult task and depends on how creatively a reporter has gathered the information from various sources. Instead of repeatedly blaming the media for inaction, the public must take initiative on its own. Mr. Vipul Mudgal came up with the slogan: ‘Media Ko Khabar Den, Media Ki Khabar Len’. Citizens can form groups to fight against poor reporting, he added. Mr. Mudgal also shared his experiences when he was associated with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Hindustan Times. He asked for creative reporting of local best practices and case studies pertaining to development related schemes such as rainwater harvesting.

In order to pay homage to deceased Jahin Matin, who died in the terrorist attack on Mumbai while saving the lives of many people during November, 2008, a candle light procession was arranged that went to four different places of worship for expressing communal harmony, symbolically.


Day II: Day II began with the reporting of discussions held in various workshops on Day I by their respective resource persons. It was said that fees cannot be charged from persons belonging to the below poverty line (BPL) population. RTI activists are needed to be positive while facing hurdles. While registering FIRs (first information report) in police stations, fees or bribes cannot be charged. The police should be accountable towards the citizens. It was informed that the first form of Forest Right came into being in 1927 to be followed in 15 December, 2006. Implementation of laws pertaining to Forest Rights has become difficult over the years. The main issues raised during the workshop on law and justice delivery were: (a) Complexity in the legal system; (b) Loss of time and energy due to complex legal procedures; (c) Need for making the judicial and legal system easier; (d) Accountability of the judiciary towards the citizens; (e) Usefulness of collective action; (f) Awareness generation about the Right to Information; (g) Need for more Aanganwadis, Soochna Kendras, Helplines etc. for raising awareness about the RTI Act; (h) Raising public voice against exploitative practices, which is followed by the police force; (i) Sensitisation of the society at large on various issues; (j) Decentralisation of the legal system (in the form of Lok Adalats). People generally think that newspapers seldom use their powers. Media works better in the presence of activists. Community can inform the media persons/ editors about development related schemes, which are being implemented at the local level. Reporting of custodial deaths is essential to avert human rights abuse. There is need to discard poor quality newspapers and TV channels. There are media reports that NREGA money has been siphoned off by the rural elites for conspicuous consumption. There is a need for community driven action against bad reporters. Media alone cannot fight on behalf of victims. The victims in a particular society should fight their own battle. Media can only provide support to the victims. Apart from the mainstream media, drama, street theatres and plays using kathputlis can be organised for generating awareness about RTI and NREGS.

Mr. Shantanu from Foundation for Ecological Security (Rajasthan) introduced a team from Bangladesh that comprised of: Mehdi Hasan (Nagarik Udyog), Abu Baker (cultural activist, Nagarik Udyog), Alangir Kabir (Nagarik Udyog), Nikhil Bhadra (journalist, Dainik Samvad) etc. It was informed that Nagarik Udyog (a NGO) is involved in drafting of the first RTI law of its kind in Bangladesh. Persons representing Nagarik Udyog wanted to learn from the experiences of MKSS for dealing with RTI since they complained of lagging behind India in terms of democratic governance. While introducing herself to the team from Bangladesh, Ms. Aruna Roy said that religious tensions have adversely affected India’s relationship with her neighbours. On the Day II, there were sessions on: (a) Youth, Democracy and Politics; (b) Youth and Education; (c) Youth and Politics; (d) Youth and Employment and (e) Youth and Social Activism.

The Convention ended with the declaration of a proposal and a future course of action.

[This report on the Second National Youth Conference has been prepared by Shambhu Ghatak (shambhughatak@yahoo.com) under the project titled ‘Inclusive Media and Rural Livelihoods’ (IMRL), which is sponsored by the Ford Foundation, and is currently being conducted at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), 29, Rajpur Road, New Delhi. The author is thankful to Mr. Vipul Mudgal (vipul@csds.in), Project Director, IMRL and the volunteers from MKSS].

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