Bhima Sanghas began to sprout everywhere in Karnataka. Each is an informal club where working and school-going children gather and exchange notes. Damu then began to ask local panchayats to allow children to attend their proceedings-- and that was the beginning of Makkala Panchayat [Children's Panchayat]
What a dramatic difference that has made! Children have brought new perspectives and ideas to decision making processes. There are any number of heartwarming examples of children's activism. Here is a small selection:
◊12 year old Rehman could not bear seeing his 'sister' being teased by adult louts. She was a domestic worker. Rehman roused his Bhima Sangha members to stand up to the bullies and have them jailed for 10 days.
◊Uchengamma, a 15 year old Dalit girl of Holagundi village, Bellary Dt. in Karanataka fought against her parents design to marry her off. Her Bhima Sangha rallied to her help, even smuggling her out of a locked room in her house and dramatising her plight through the media. Her success has led to six other child marriages being stopped.
◊Members of several Bhima Sanghas decided to meet the new Mayor of Bangalore and bring to his notice, problems that children face. They marched two kilometres through lanes in their neighbourhood carrying placards and singing songs. A 11 year old carried her two year old sister throughout the walkathon. The mayor sorted out many of their problems.
◊When the Konkan Railway was laid out, it ran through Nandanavana and Karikalli villages cutting off an important foot path through which children fetched firewood and ran errands. People had to make 10km detours daily. About 900 families were affected. Local Bhima Sangha swung into action and stood with protesting adults. It made individual representations and received a direct invitation from the authorities. Children met them and convinced them of the need for an alternate path. They got it.
◊Bhima Sangha members are great communicators. They run a magazine called Bhima Patrike, which has an apex editorial committee. Children also produce a wall newspaper. Bhima Kala Kendra is a children's theatre group that creates awareness about the environment, HIV/AIDS, communalism, plastic litter etc. They also narrowcast an audio magazine called Bhima Vahini, although it is currently off the air. Mainstream media uses a number of Bhima Sangha correspondents in villages to gather news.
◊In Nandroli hamlet of Keradi Panchayat, members of Bhima Sangha worked out the amount spent by the village on liquor, using a breathtakingly simple technique. They went to the liquor vend and cleared the litter of empty plastic sachets. They then waited all day and collected the new empties flung out of the shop. At Rs.11 per packet of arrack, the annual liquor spend came to Rs.12,00,000! Armed with this evidence the local Bhima Sangha confronted the adults, startling them into action. There has since been increasing control on arrack sales. The village panchayat is now working to make Nandroli liquor free.