Rallies, competitions and extra marks – schools are using all these and more to get students to urge their parents to vote in the upcoming Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections.
On Monday, students of Anjuman-I-Islam group of institutions held rallies and performed street plays in south Mumbai. Students of Byculla’s Saif Tyabji Girls’ School, Saboo Siddik Engineering College and Akbar Peerbhoy College, Grant Road spread the word with placards and banners that read: ‘Mumbaikar vote kar’ (Mumbai citizens, go vote).
“In 2012, the voter turnout was as low as 40%, which is sad,” said Zahir Kazi, president of the Anjuman institutions in Maharashtra. “We need to remind people not to treat poll day as a holiday.”
Suburban schools belonging to the group will hold similar activities on Tuesday. Each child will write a letter to their parent on why they should vote, and students will be rewarded if both their parents vote. “This is not about not promoting any candidate or party. We just want to increase the city’s voting percentage,” said Kazi.
City schools have been spurred into action by AGNI (Association for Good Governance in India), a non-government organization (NGO) working for good governance. They have roped in schools such as Avabai Petit, Bandra, Jamnabai Narsee School, Juhu and the 150-schools run by the Archdiocesan Board of Education (ABE).
The NGO has trained teachers in cultivating political awareness among students. “Our students have pledged to convince parents to cast their vote,” said Anna Correa, principal, Stanislaus School, Bandra. “On Friday, teachers will send notes to parents to commit to voting. Extra marks will be given to students doing art and craft projects on this topic.”
While taking up awareness activities, schools need to exercise caution, said clinical psychologist Seema Hingorrany. “There is a danger of creating a bias in students’ minds, which can lead to conflicts and reflect in their personality,” she said.
In 2014, the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights had written to the state election commission asking political parties not to involve children in campaigns, as they do not have the maturity to understand the consequences.