The ‘Meena-Raju Manch’ programme was launched in 2012, in all secondary schools of the Government of Maharashtra. The programme helps create awareness about issues like gender equity, right to education and child sexual abuse. With the help of UNICEF, along with CORO, a Mumbai-based development organisation, the Meena-Raju Manch is active in some 23,000 schools across the state. It aims to bring about adoption of new behavioural practices with respect to gender equity in students and teachers, so that equity does not remain a paper phrase. The programme started under the name of Meena Manch, but since 2012, it has been renamed Meena-Raju Manch. The idea was to involve male students as their participation was necessary to bring about real social change.
Students from Stds 5 to 8 are enrolled in the programme. Great care is taken to ensure that the programme does not become too theoretical or bookish, or degenerate into a propaganda tool. Prepared guides are made available to teachers and the weekly topics for discussion are chosen according to them. Through these discussion sessions, students are gradually made aware that they are first and foremost human beings, and only then boys or girls.
At the start of the programme, the students take an oath for gender equality and against using abusive language. The discussions regarding the oath give them the perspective that most common curse words are demeaning to women, especially the sisters or mothers of the person being abused. These abuses have no connection with the quarrels of individuals. And small children simply imitate their elders, without knowing the meaning of the abusive words. The Meena-Raju Manch teaches children ways of expressing disagreement while keeping one’s anger under control and refraining from being abusive.
The programme has had excellent results in Maharashtra’s Beed district. Kanadimali is a small village in the Kej taluka here. Its school has a Meena-Raju Manch, and CORO has made special efforts to establish a dialogue with the youth and other villagers, to bring about positive changes in the community. An example of the Meena-Raju Manch’s success in changing people’s outlook may be found in the village boys’ attempt to get a playground. Each time they go to the Gram Panchayat (village committee) with their request, they make it a point to say that the ground is meant for girls as well as boys to play in. Moreover, they have named their group ‘Savitribai Phule Yuva Manch, in honour of Maharashtra’s famous woman educationist and social reformer.
The Savitribai Phule Yuva Manch celebrated Ambedkar Jayanti this year, successfully combined with a “No abusive language” drive. Actually, when CORO had first suggested this in a Yuva Manch meeting, the boys had laughed it off. They said that such a drive could never be successful in their village, where everyone, children and adults, used abusive language freely. But when the CORO activists urged them to judge whether it was right to use expressions which are essentially nasty comments about a person’s mother or sister, they changed their minds and came forward to implement the drive.
The experiment started under the supervision of a senior member of the village, Laxmanbhau. The idea was to hit the back of the person using abusive language, with some force. But this soon led to frequent fights, and the main purpose began to be lost. So then the rule was modified, so that the person using obscenities had to serve tea to the victims of his bad language. Over time, the village of Kanadimali is now slowly leaving behind its habitual use of foul language.
The Meena-Raju Manch also runsa campaign called Ghadyalache Chakra or The Hours of the Clock. It urges students to rethink the traditional roles of men and women in the family. Students are asked to colour in segments of a cardboard clock dial in different colours, indicating the activities done by them around the clock. They identify how they spent each hour – studying, looking after younger siblings, watching TV, sleeping, and so on, choosing distinct colours for each activity. Predictably, most boys’ clocks showed activities like playing, sleeping, watching TV, while the girls’ dials indicate activities like washing dishes, looking after younger siblings, doing household chores etc. Through this exercise, the boys realised that during the times that they are allowed to play, girls of their age have to do house work. The sugamkartas or teachers conducting these sessions guide the boys to the conclusion that it would only be fair if they too helped their mothers and and shared the work with their sisters.
The positive impact of this campaign was apparent recently, in a Nandurbar district school. The Meena-Raju Manch is active in the small ZP school in the Vadsatra village of Navapur taluka. As expected, a huge discrepancy was found between the ways in which girls and boys, respectively, spent their time away from school. The sugamakartas discussed this situation with the students. The girls were vocal in their desire to play, but said that they were unable to, because of their duties at home. The discussion also revealed how, often, the girls did not get enough time to study because of the housework they were expected to do. The boys, on the other hand, spent most of their free time playing, or watching TV. While talking to the students, the sugamkartas also pointed out how mothers wake up before everyone else, go to bed last of all, and do all the housework in between. The boys became introspective, and promised to help their mothers, sisters, and grandmothers in future.
Now the boys of this village not only help the women in house work, but if they find that their sisters are being given extra work, they take it upon themselves to share the burden, and encourage their sisters to either study or play during that time. Besides, they have begun to urge their fathers and grandfathers to lend a helping hand around the house. The women of Vadstra village are grateful to the Meena-Raju Manch for bringing about this welcome transformation.
The Meena-Raju Manch is fostering tangible change. It is urging boys and men to rethink many things, so that gender equality does not remain a mere idea. It might be said that the programme’s success lies in the fact that many more people are now practicing gender equality in everyday life.
Blog: Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar, based on the experiences shared by CORO activists, Pallavi Palav and Nitin Kamble
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team