The Optimist Citizen

How Cleaning staff and 2 students from Jamshedpur are subtly rediscovering what it means to be free

Saloni and Aditi from Jamshedpur Public School are creating a dialogue with Safai Karamcharis at school, subtly rediscovering what it means to be free

While studying at school, I remember asking my mother for money every now and then – for music CDs, books, clothes and so much more. More often than not, I would be chided for my seeming opulence but eventually, after a fight, my mother would give in. I would get the money, and bask in the glory of winning the fight for my freedom, my freedom to choose and do as I willed. A freedom that I felt was restricted by parents and the choice to buy the right clothes was what my true freedom meant.

Like me, and millions of urban kids across India, Saloni and Aditi from Jamshedpur too felt that this is what freedom meant. Choosing what they can buy, when they wanted to. Pursuing their hobbies of reading and painting whenever they felt like. But, a conversation with the cleaning staff of their school – Jamshedpur Public School – redefined every connotation of freedom for them.

As part of the Be a Jagrik Campaign run by Commutiny – The Youth Collective, Saloni and Aditi – commerce students at Jamshedpur Public school – did a task to understand Freedom from the perspective of Safai Karmachari (cleaning staff) in their school.  Collaborating with local partners, including People for change in Jamshedpur, the initiative aims to enable young, aware, and active citizens or Jagriks live and experience the SDGs and the rights and duties enshrined in the Indian Constitution. As the Jagriks undertake exciting self and community action projects on-ground, they also take their powerful voice for change into the world.

“I remember, it was 11th December when we approached the staff. The approach was not difficult, but the conversation was far from easy,” says Aditi, recounting the first approach. “Freedom for them was the freedom to appreciate their work and live the way they wanted to. On the surface, we initially felt the response to be in line with our sensibilities, but a deeper meaning lay beyond that”, adds Saloni.

“For us – urban dwellers, freedom is a one-way street. But, for the Karamcharis it changes with the context of where they live. In school, they are given a lot of freedom to express their opinions and voice. They decide their hours, are free to talk to the coordinators, the principal. But, when they are back home, the scenario to choose changes immensely”, says Sauvik, Founder of People for Change and a mentor to Saloni and Aditi.

“When you are pushed to a corner of the city, asked to stay in a Basti (slum), things change. Firstly, the Karamcharis expressed that they don’t have the freedom to voice out their concerns. Secondly, they do not have the freedom to the choice of education for their children, because of their financial impairment. Thirdly, they do not have the freedom to decide what to do with their lives and the lives of their children. The equation of freedom is completely different now. social and economic impairments have backed them to a corner”, Sauvik adds.

This renewed realisation brought in a new definition of Freedom – far from what we have grown up learning. The single bandwidth of Freedom was now layered – affected by numerous, rampant conditions of our so-called social order.  

The constitution and Be A Jagrik helped create a larger impact on the new found perspective of both the girls – driving a wedge in the usually urban viewpoint.

“I remember doing a task where I had to abstain the use of 5 things that harm the environment for a week. In that week, I understood the impact, my consumption made on the environment and what would happen if I stopped that.  More than anything, this task opened up clarity for smaller efforts and layers in life. It showed that small efforts too can move a larger mammoth.”, says Saloni about her exponential experience while doing the tasks in Be A Jagrik.  

“Constitution is a treasured dialogue, that goes beyond its text – something that many are not aware of. As I did the tasks of Be A Jagrik, I understood the layers of rights and duties that exist. I might take freedom for granted, but for someone who is restricted by so many social factors, freedom can be a whole new outlook. And that is where the constitution comes into play. It sets a benchmark for everyone’s freedom”, added Aditi.

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