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Be an active citizen, step up and inspire change in your city

Several of our national policies have benefitted in design and execution through active citizenship. At the local level, many citizen volunteers help municipalities, panchayats and ward committees achieve efficiency and effectiveness.

gurgaon Updated: Jul 09, 2019 07:46 IST
Shubhra Puri
Shubhra Puri
active citizenship,Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority,active citizens
For vibrant democracies that follow the principle “of the people, by the people, for the people”, active citizenship is pivotal.(Yogendra Kumar/HT PHOTO)

When you exercised your right to vote to elect the government at the Centre this time, the indelible purple ink on your left finger (that perhaps has stayed on till date), was a quiet reminder of your active citizenship. Paying your taxes in full and on time is also an act of duty of an active citizen. These are some of the “first-line” rights and duties of a citizen. A conscious citizen who saves water, electricity, follows traffic rules is also an active citizen.

Stepping beyond and getting involved in local communities, such as residents’ welfare associations (RWAs), being a member of ward committees, engaging with local bodies and other key stakeholders, organising awareness campaigns—all form elements of active citizenship. Filing Right to Information (RTIs) and Public Interest Litigations (PILs) for larger public causes also comes under the aegis of active citizenship.

The beginning could be as small as planting a tree in one’s neighbourhood; but there is no end to leading, inspiring and affecting change.

Active citizenship is participative, proactive and positive.

For vibrant democracies that follow the principle “of the people, by the people, for the people”, active citizenship is pivotal. It helps everyone exercise their democratic rights, duties and values; fight social injustice; improve communities and local governance by keeping the government in check; instils civil leadership; promotes inclusivity, provides innovative solutions and engages citizens in national, state and local affairs.

Several of our national policies have benefitted in design and execution through active citizenship. At the local level, many citizen volunteers help municipalities, panchayats and ward committees achieve efficiency and effectiveness.

The seeds of active citizenship need to be planted at the school-level. One way to instil it is to reform the way we teach Civics as a subject to students.

While students are taught about local governance structures, they need to be encouraged to make representations to local bodies about local issues. A group of students in Gurugram had recently made a representation to the state minister for protecting the Aravallis. An exclusively student protest march on climate change where young boys and girls of Gurugram raised slogans and made impactful speeches caught a lot of eyeballs. In fact, campaigns led by young volunteers appear more earnest and have more chances of being heard.

Such is the importance of young leaders that post presidency, the United State of America’s former president, Barack Obama, has started a focussed mission to promote and empower young leaders globally. With a majority of its population young, India could also gain from such leaders—what is needed are institutional frameworks that help educate, empower and inspire them to bring about social change.

Having said that, there is no age to turn to active citizenship. An incident, a chance meeting, a sudden realisation, a passionate hobby can turn on active citizenship in you. A homemaker who has learnt to make compost from her kitchen’s waste can hold a workshop for other residents in her colony. A retired senior citizen can join his colony’s RWA and contribute to its welfare. A student group can run a campaign on saving water in the neighbourhood.

Gurugram is a great city to contribute to. It has the finest kind of active citizenry, be it for environment, education, natural resources, cleanliness, governance, women safety or children’s issues.

As part of NGOs, citizen groups and RWAs, active citizens intervene, advocate and interact with stakeholders to make the city a better place to live in. Several social groups help citizens unite for meaningful causes. Raahgiri, a novel concept to promote non-motorised transport that has spread across several cities, in fact, originated first as a citizens’ movement in Gurugram.

On an institutional level, a lot of credence is being given to citizens’ involvement. And, why not? Institution heads come and go, but citizens who have adopted the city as their home have a long-term interest in the well-being of the city.

The Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) is mandated to have citizen participation through resident advisory councils and citizen committees. The GMDA has recently asked citizens’ committees to help decide new routes for public bus service in the city. It also sought citizens’ suggestions to create a liveability index for the city. Besides, one can join committees of their respective wards can help in improving civic issues of their locality.

Making a positive difference by being socially responsible gives a new meaning and purpose to life.

Be an active citizen. Inspire change.

(Shubhra Puri is the founder of Gurgaon First, a citizen initiative to promote sustainability in Gurugram through workshops and research books.)

First Published: Jul 09, 2019 02:29 IST