Nelly Furtado boomed out of powerful speakers at the 100-year-old church complex. The church was speaking the language of the youth. And the youth were being asked to vote.
A speech where a politician dismissed the youth saying they never step out to vote led to the vision of Youth Lead mela. Father Warner D’Souza of suburban Bandra’s Mount Carmel Church and the youth from his parish worked relentlessly for two months to break that perception.
“It is unusual to have rock music at a church but we have to understand that to get to the youth, you need to speak their language. If you can’t relate to the youth, then you are irrelevant,” said the 38-year-old priest, who sports an Aerosmith wallpaper on his laptop and follows MTV to keep a tab on the young mindset.
And the language seems to have hit the right note. Over 2,500 people turned up for the mela that was held two weeks ago. The event also pulled local candidates — Priya Dutt and Mahesh Jethmalani — to come and be seen. With 70 per cent of the country below the age of 35, it is the youth that can swing the tide this election. What began as a three-day religious programme last year to celebrate youth day, became a youth initiative for all.
“A very senior priest suggested that we do something to encourage the youth to vote. He said we should have a seminar with a few speeches, but that, of course would never work. Youngsters will never attend a seminar, but a mela with a rock concert and cool celebrities will be a crowd puller,” said Warner.
That was when the core committee of 15 youngsters, all in age group of 16 to 28, was formed. “People were apprehensive. They thought it would be a series of speeches with a few performances. But when they saw that it was a fun mela that aimed to raise awareness, they stayed on. By 9.30 pm, there was no place to stand,” said Keith D’Souza, a 19-year-old student, a committee member.
The mela included games and food stalls, musicians, dances and a rock concert as the grand finale. Actors Rahul Bose and Genelia D’Souza too showed up. But amid the fun, the message was loud and clear: go out there and vote.
“Everything had a political theme. For example, all the 10 game stalls were based on politicians. There was a game called Bolti Bandh, where the player had to throw a ball through the mouth of a cut out of a corrupt politician,” added Warner.
A video highlighting the importance of voting, made by members of the committee, was screened and people like Kunal Kapoor, Dino Morea and Gul Panag stood before he crowds and explained the importance of their vote.
But how were these celebrities zeroed in on? “Well, we are young and we know who youngsters will relate too. Youngsters always had the passion to bring about change, but 26/11 gave it a push. But that apart, it was a learning experience,” said 19-year-old Joshua Pereira, a committee member.