Chennai – Friday, 21st July 2006 When Rajamma saw Kalvettu, a short film about a boy who suffers ill-treatment from an alcoholic father and is forced to give up school, she thought hard. Her 13-year-old daughter Saraswathi was out of school and working as a domestic help when she should have been in school.
``My daughter wasn’t a clever student and was often verbally abused by her teachers. That’s why I took her out of school. After seeing the film, I realized that she must continue to study,’’ Rajamma says. She then admitted Saraswathi in the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) school in Duraiyeri, a village in the interiors of Krishnagiri district where she lived.
Kalvettu was one of the three films that premiered in Chennai to launch the `East Side Story’, a project of social organization NalandaWay and UNICEF. The idea is to equip 12 to 18-year-olds from excluded societies with skills to research, script and make films to tell their stories from their point of view.
The project will function as a network of news bureaus, each consisting of 15 children. Tamil Nadu is to have 8 such news bureaus by the end of 2006. The ideas debated in these groups will reach communities in rural and urban pockets of the state through television, radio, newspapers and street plays as well.
``It is an opportunity for idealistic and socially conscious children to bring their perspectives to a community problem. Using the mass media will help them reach out to a large audience, to be heard’’ says Sriram V Ayer, founder of NalandaWay.
The programme began with a powerfully-worded play about children as the victims of societal apathy. Abuse in the form early marriages, sexual exploitation, stifled creativity, alcoholic fathers and an indifferent society silently kill their spirits, their message conveyed.
``Children go through so much of emotional and physical difficulties but there are few who notice. East Side Story is our chance to tell our stories,’’ says 13-year-old Deva, who was part of the play.
Commending the effort of East Side Story, Mr. Cecilio Adorna, UNICEF Country Office Representative said such initiatives were ``critical elements’’ in the process of giving children a voice. Children in conflict-torn parts of the world have completely changed the outlook of their government and adults, Mr. Adorna pointed out. ``Children are not the future, they are today,’’ he said.
Mezhuguvarthi, a two-minute film, portrayed the harassment faced by young girls. ``Earlier, it is only my friends and I who knew about the rude remarks we encountered everyday. Now all those who see the film will understand our plight,’’ says Geetha, a Grade XII student who was part of the 8-member team from Krishnagiri who made the film.
A light-hearted take on a serious problem children face, Mug-up Mangamma is a call to the teaching-community to give children a meaningful education. ``If teachers demonstrate concepts in child-friendly ways instead of expecting us to learn entire texts by heart, we can think better,’’ reasons V. Prabhakar, a Grade 9 student in Chennai.
The audience at the launch was appreciative of the efforts of the young filmmakers. ``A child may be physically small but they have valid points to make on everything from their education system to their family environment. We as a society must listen,’’ says Dayalini, a mother in the audience.
Describing the three films as “inspirational examples of truth telling”, Mr. N Ram, Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu newspaper, encouraged the children to demand space in national and local media as a matter of right. India maybe an IT superpower but her greatest weakness is at the foundational level. The least that can be done is ensuring primary education in India, he said.
In the coming months, the short films will be screened in village communities across Tamil Nadu, in the hope that more people like Rajamma will make decisions that will benefit their child. The films will also be screened to specific audiences like corporates and non-government organizations.
At the launch, Dr Santosh Babu I.A.S, District Collector - Krishnagiri district, pointed out the data-lag in information about out-of-school children, a crucial tool for better policy formulation. ``We will soon have a computerized database of every child who is out of school in Krishnagiri district and details of their families. This will help us bring the issue of child labour and education into the focus of the community,’’ he said.
Krishnagiri is one among the 16 districts in India where UNICEF is implementing integrated village planning projects to establish various child-friendly initiatives. The children’s films have been screened in several villages in the district and are serving as powerful tools to question existing mindsets on women and children.
With a platform to themselves, children who have for long been citizens without votes and voices are looking forward to telling their stories. ``Empowering young girls is an issue that we must discuss, from a child’s perspective’’ says Pooveli, a class XII student. Arun Kumar, in class VII, says he wants to make a film explaining why children need more time for sport in schools.
Through East Side Story, UNICEF hopes to take such child participation to higher levels. ``The initiative facilitated a forum for children to express their views on issues concerning them. We hope that government, NGOs, civil society and others will be able to respond to their views,’’ says Mr. Thomas George, Communication Officer, UNICEF.