All three lads have just turned 18, Gnanasekar yesterday, Shakthivel today and Gokulraj before that. That means they would stop being members of the children’s parliament. Gnanasekar is now national prime minister and organiser of the global parliament. He and his two friends are from the village of Nagadasampatti in Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu. They have come to Thiruvananthapuram to take part in the International Children’s Film Festival of Kerala where a film called Power to the Children, based on their lives, is being screened.
The village has, like many others in the country, been a victim of such social evils as child labour and child marriage. But in four years, quite a lot has changed – these children made sure of that. “We – members of the children’s parliament – have stopped 237 child marriages from happening, including my sister’s,” says Gnanasekar, who is doing his first year BA now. Gokulraj, doing his first year Engineering, is dropping out because his dad has just passed away and his ill mother cannot afford his education. “They are seven of them – he has six elder sisters,” Gnanasekar says.
It is Shakthivel’s story that the film, directed by German filmmaker Anna Kersting, focuses on. “He is the hero,” tease his friends. But it is not a happy story. The documentary film shows his life as it is, having an alcoholic father, and the things that he does. “We – 30 of us from the children’s parliament – did a campaign against the sale of liquor. The government had passed a resolution and closed liquor shops but there were people selling it illegally. We protested and had it closed too. Shakthivel’s father was taken for counselling and his drinking is a little under control now.”
The 87-minute long film does not cover all the work that the children have been doing. They have taken steps to stop child labour, apart from starting a library in the village after the existing one lay defunct for years. “When there is a case of child labour or child marriage, we either call Childline or else report it to the Panchayat President. We have once rescued 16 bonded labourers who came from the north to our village for work.”
The library – Inclusive Knowledge Source Centre – is the first to be started by children, Gnanasekar says. They collected some 6,500 books through donations – Tamil, Hindi and English among them. “People have been sending petitions to the government to reopen the defunct library but there was no response. So when we had our holidays after the exams, we decided to do it ourselves. In 17 days, we did the campaign to collect the books and rebuild the library. The monthly rent of the library building – Rs 1,500 – we pay from selling newspapers.”
Apart from these kids, Anna Kersting’s film also tells the story of Swarna Lakshmi, a girl from the city. “She was the former prime minister of the children’s parliament and has gone to the UN four times. She is blind since birth but that has not stopped her from excelling in her studies – she has finished her BA in Political Science and is now applying to the London School of Economics,” Gnanasekar says.
Power to the Children will be screened at the ICFFK on Monday at 11.30 am.