We need to step up: Civic engagement for teenagers
Updated: Jan 12
By Tanisha Agrawal
I have lived in Mumbai for 14 years; it was the city where I blossomed from a toddler to a young girl. Consequently, I grew very attached to it and eventually found myself tangled in the skein of its problems; problems that affect a large population of Mumbaikars and are often unheard of by the government.
Through the BMC, MLAs, Vidhan Sabha (Legislative Assembly), and the Vidhan Parishad (Legislative Council), Maharashtra stands on a large and complex government system. This gives the government officials of Mumbai a very essential responsibility: the welfare of our people. However, the welfare of the people is not just the government's responsibility, it is the responsibility of young citizens too.
My experiences made me realize that young people have innovative ideas: creative yet realistic that can help develop communities in a sustainable manner. Being engaged in civic action and local governance will also help them develop communication, collaboration, and creative thinking skills that will be handy in solving future problems. Additionally, our generation is by far a strong believer in the principle of democracy; hence they serve as potential advocates for suffrage. However, in order for this to happen, young people must first get involved in politics at a grassroots level. Here are some ways in which we can gradually engage in our communities.
Know your community
One of the first steps is becoming aware of the community we live in. This includes mundane habits, like keeping a watch on who the MLA is, what their policies are, and what developments are taking place around them. Increased curiosity and awareness while walking or driving around can help youngsters get more engaged in their community. Reading the local newspaper, watching political debates and news, or following local organizations on social media will also help boost interest in politics.
Secondly, they can involve themselves in reporting on grassroots issues closely and, if possible, contact legislators, which may result in a course of action. For instance, for the ‘If I Were The Mayor Contest’ (a contest that encouraged children to imagine themselves as the Mayor of Mumbai and highlight key issues they would address) I chose to report on the noise pollution in my ward. Here is an extract from what I found:
Being stranded at home for 2 years due to the coronavirus pandemic, people in Santacruz West H-west ward complained of noise pollution as their primary concern. Having visited several construction sites, the drilling, excavation, construction machines, and demolishing processes created noise over 85 dBA (as tested by my decimeter). Any prolonged noise over 75dBA causes hearing disability (MoHFW), and since construction takes months, nearby residents face long phases of dangerously high levels of noise. New projects are on the rise and Tagore Road has approximately 15 under-construction plots (as of June 2022).
Attend town halls & city council meetings
Attending distinct meetings of different committees can help spark interest in young people. Some cities have the option of public comment where a resident can present their opinion and ask questions to government representatives. This is a great opportunity to learn about the functioning of a government at a local level and will boost citizen involvement. For example, the winners of the ‘If I were Mumbai’s Mayor’ contest had the opportunity to attend a mock town hall session with R-south Ward Corporator Ms. Surekha Patil. She addressed the children and engaged with them based on her experiences. She spoke about initiatives she had carried out in the Lokhandwala Township in Kandivali and went on to discuss some ideas that the contestants had about improving Mumbai. Students gave suggestions and inputs on ways to curb the problems they wrote about in their proposals.
Volunteer in your community
Young people should involve themselves in a variety of volunteering services with local NGOs to learn about the needs of the vulnerable and the problems of their community. This will increase their knowledge and help them take well-informed decisions on issues that truly matter. Since I was 9 years old, I have actively volunteered in my community: teaching underprivileged kids, assisting senior citizens, cleaning beaches, collecting plastic for recycling drives, serving at senior citizen homes, and assisting at the local library. Each of these experiences shaped the way I look at the world and equipped me with skills that I am going to use lifelong.
Our country is home to several esteemed leaders who rose from grassroots levels to evoke change in the country. As youngsters, being part of the government may seem fantastical but it is time that we, the upcoming generation of leaders, plan our motives rationally and in a way that it helps everyone. It is imperative for us, especially girls, to become integral parts of the system and improve lives by tackling issues that affect vulnerable groups. Because I believe we have the potential to do so and take effective actions one step at a time so we can combat the problems our society faces.