This time when you exercised your right to vote to elect the government at the centre, the indelible purple ink on your left finger (that perhaps has stayed on till date), is a quiet reminder of your active citizenship. Paying your taxes in full and on time is also an act of duty as an active citizen. These are some of the “first-line” rights and duties of a citizen. A conscious citizen who saves water, electricity, follows traffic rules is also an active citizen.
Stepping beyond and getting involved at the local level communities such as RWA, being a member of ward committe, engaging with local bodies and other key stakeholders, organising awareness campaigns – all form elements of active citizenship. Filing Right to Information (RTIs) and Public Interest Litigations (PILs) for a larger public cause also comes under active citizenship. The beginning could be as small as planting a tree in one’s neighbourhood; but there is no end to leading, inspiring and affecting change.
Active citizenship is participative, proactive and positive in approach. For vibrant democracies set on the principle – of the people, by the people, for the people – active citizenship is pivotal. It helps exercise democratic rights, duties and values; fight social injustice; improve communities and local governance, keeps the government in check; instils civil leadership; promotes inclusivity, provides innovative solutions and keeps the citizens engaged in national, state and local affairs. Many of our national policies have benefitted in design and execution through active citizenship. At the local level, many citizens volunteers are helping municipalities, panchayats and ward committees achieve efficiency and effectiveness.
The seeds of “active citizenship” need to be planted at the school level. One way to instill it to reform the way we teach civics as a subject to students. While teaching them about local governance structures, students need to be encouraged to make representations to local bodies about local issues. A group of students in Gurugram had recently made a representation to the state minister for protecting the Aravallis. An exclusively student protest march on climate change where young boys and girls of Gurugram raised slogans and made impactful speeches caught a lot of eyeballs. In fact, campaigns led by young volunteers appear more earnest and have more chances of being heard.
There are other ways to empower schools students as well. A successful “Green School Program’ by the NGO, Centre for Science and Environment assists students to audit their schools on their “environment friendly” quotient through a simple handbook toolkit. By auditing the management of water, waste, air in their schools, the students assess the school’s impact on the environemnt and give suggestions for reducing it.
Such is the importance of young leaders that post presidency, United State’s former President Barack Obama has started a focussed mission to promote and empower young leaders globally. With a majority of its population as youth, India could also gain from young leaders, what is needed are institutional frameworks that help educate, empower and inspire them to bring about social change.
Having said that, there is no age to turn to active citizenship. An incident, a chance meeting, a sudden realisation, a passionate hobby can turn on the active citizenship in you. A home-maker who has learnt to make compost from her home kitchen waste can hold a workshop for other residents in her colony on it. A retired senior citizen can join his colony’s RWA and contribute to its welfare. A student group can run a campaign on saving water in the neighbourhood. Besides, corporates now have to mandatorily pitch in through their Corporate Social Responibility arms and foundations.
Gurugram is a great city to jump onto this bandwagon. It has the finest kind of active citizenry be it for environment, education, natural resources, cleanliness, governance, women safety or children issues. As part of NGOs, citizen groups and RWAs, they intervene, advocate and interact with stakeholders to make the city a better place to live in. Several social groups – Friends of Aravallis, Solid Waste Action and Awareness Forum, and Gurgaon Water Forum etc are helping citizens unite for meaningful causes. Raahgiri, a novel concept for promoting non-motorised transport that has spread across several cities in fact originated first as a citizens movement in Gurugram.
On an institutional level, more and more credence is being given to citizens involvement. And, why not? The institution heads come and go, but citizens who have adopted the city as their home have a long-term interest in the well-being of the city. The newly-formed Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) is mandated to have citizen participation through resident advisory councils and citizen committes. GMDA has recently asked citizens committees to help decide new routes for public bus servce in the city. It also sought citizens suggestions to create a liveability index for the city. Besides, one can join ward committees of their respective wards can help in improving civic issues of their locality.
Last but not the least, making a positive difference by being socially responsible gives a new meaning and purpose to life. Be an active citizen. Inspire change.