“If a child must speak strongly about what he or she believes in, he or she must also listen intently when an opposing view is presented.”

Moving past primetime shouting matches Ktaka initiative teaches kids to debate the right wayFacebook/Verbattle
news Debate and dialogue Monday, August 01, 2016 - 17:19

With all the hyper-vocal television anchors shouting into our living rooms every evening, and trolls of all shades shouting back on social media, patience and the ability to listen to other people are in short supply.

That’s what 45-year-old Deepak Thimaya learnt from his two-decade long journalism career that virtually no one is willing to listen to anyone else. And that’s what led Deepak to set up Verbattle, a platform for encouraging debate and dialogue practices, as a way to inculcate thinking and “enjoyment in listening to opposing views”.


Deepak Thimaya, Verbattle founder


Verbattle is short for ‘verbal battle’, and the Bengaluru-based organisation conducts debating competitions and training camps around the year for school children (ages 8 and up), college students, as well as adults and corporates. However, says Deepak, enthusiasm and participation dwindle as the age group increases.

Thus, while the junior category (12-16 years) has the most number of participants, corporates have the lowest participation and quality of debate. “They (corporates) would rather give investment and time to dance shows or parties. Even if they agree, their concerns are about, say, how colorful the event would be,” says Deepak.

He thinks this is because, as children grow up, they become more conscious about being politically correct and do not want to be laughed at. “It’s not that they don’t have any thoughts or opinions, but they’re just taught to not say it. They aren’t encouraged to value knowledge,” he says.

To encourage greater participation, says Deepak, Verbattle stays away from long-debate formats. Instead, students typically get a one-minute time limit, compelling them to come up with concise, critical and tight arguments. Thus, a typical round of competition lasts 12-15 minutes with three teams of two students each, with one team qualifying for the next round.

Deepak says that because they have shorter competitions and day-long events over a period of a few days up to a month, it allows more students to participate.



In the 12 years since Verbattle began, Deepak observes that children often come up with more nuanced arguments than adults. For instance, in an argument about the viability of violence in certain situations, a 12-year-old girl spoke about how violence is not merely physical, as many perceive. “She said that control and restriction could also be seen as violence but it also depends on which side you’re on,” he recalls.

“We need to understand that everything cannot be seen in black and white. And that cannot happen unless we learn to listen to opposing views. Only if we listen, we will hear and only then can we know. It is important to inculcate these values from a young age,” Deepak insists.

What makes him happiest about Verbattle’s work is seeing children smiling instead of being upset when their opponents deliver strong counter-arguments. “If a child must speak strongly about what he or she believes in, he or she must also listen intently when an opposing view is presented. And these kids may be competitors but I have seen them hug the opposing team because they are so impressed by their point,” he says proudly.

Deepak says that this philosophy could do well in a world where everyone loves to fight “either with guns and bombs or with their tongues”.

“They start with an assumption, believe it and let it rule over them. They don’t question and do not want to be questioned. But in a world of friction and anger, speech is the only lubricant,” says Deepak, emphasising the need for dissent to be a part of a healthy discourse.

Set up in 2005, Verbattle registered itself as a not-for-profit initiative in May 2013. The organisation has conducted over 30 large scale debate events in Karnataka and other states in south India. Deepak says that they are now looking forward to partner with international organizations and plan to expand outside Karnataka into cities like Delhi, Pune, Mumbai and Kolkata this year.

Their next state-level competition will take place between August 2 and August 26 across Bengaluru, Mysuru, Mangaluru and Hubbali.

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