The 11 and 13-Yr-Old Farm Protestors Once Again Remind Us Why We Shouldn’t Take the Rise of Child Activists Lightly

Social Commentary

The 11 and 13-Yr-Old Farm Protestors Once Again Remind Us Why We Shouldn’t Take the Rise of Child Activists Lightly

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

When I was eleven, I was trading Pokemon cards and trying to ride a bicycle without holding the handle to impress my friends. I had little idea about the happenings in the world and what was going on in the news. I only kept track of who the Indian cricket team was playing next. However, that cannot be said of today’s younger generation. Thanks to social media and heightened awareness, children today are not only aware about what is happening around them, but they also want to be part of it.

Future generations are beneficiaries of decisions that are taken today, both good and bad. Policies that we formulate around issues such as climate change and artificial intelligence, and reform undertaken in the social, political and economic domain will directly impact their lives. The young stakeholders of that change are not shy of making themselves heard, giving rise to the phenomenon of children activists.

Take the case of 11-year-old Gursimrat Kaur, who marched with her parents all the way from Punjab to the Delhi border, to protest the contentious farm laws passed by the government. “I’m in grade six. Studies are important but so is this fight,” she said in an interview to the BBC.

Kaur is not the only one. There are a number of children – pre-teens and teens – who have joined the ongoing farmers protest in Delhi, which has entered its 19th day. Some participate in online classes, take time out to do their lessons and then join the agitation along with their parents.

Kaur and other children giving school a miss brings to mind the Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg and her “School Strike for Climate Change”, which has now become a worldwide movement. Last year, millions of students across the globe walked out of schools and universities to take part in one of the biggest protests for climate change. Did these demonstrations led by young activists make adults think more about the rising temperatures and melting ice caps? Yes, they certainly did.  But not everyone was in awe.

Children want to have a say in the future that impacts them.

In fact, now more than a year after Thunberg rose to fame, not a day goes by when people don’t troll her on social media for “bunking school” to attend a rally or an event supporting the climate change movement. The infamous list of trolls includes adults occupying government offices across the world like US President Donald Trump. However, not only has the incessant trolling failed to dilute Thunberg’s resolve but has made TIME’s Person of the Year (2019) more powerful and garner a following previously earned only by rockstars and sportspeople. It is telling of the larger society’s failure that it took a schoolgirl to mobilise a global movement around climate change, the leading existential threat to mankind in the 21st century.

Today, school children from the US to Africa are taking matters into their own hands. Historically, the voice of children has been absent from politics but the passive attitudes of adults have left them with no choice but to take responsibility for the future.

In India, nine-year-old Manipuri climate activist Licypriya Kangujam has been vocal on issues related to climate change, stubble burning, farmer protests and many more. Dubbed as “India’s Greta Thunberg”, Licypriya’s has been campaigning for climate action in India for two years to pass new laws to curb high pollution levels in the country and to make climate change literacy mandatory in schools. Joshua Wong, involved in activism from the age of 14, has been central to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, that now has almost unanimous acceptance among the public at large.

Children have started to engage and participate in civil and social movements in their schools and neighbourhoods, drawing support from other students and as well as adults aligned with the cause. And they are hoping to usher in the change that the older generation could not by taking governments by surprise.

Jessica Taft, author of The Kids Are in Charge, points out, “I’ve seen 12-year-olds facilitate meetings better than 35-year-olds. We need to decouple experience and age. Sometimes the youngest kids get listened to the most.” She also states that “there is a stubborn resistance to treating young people’s political activism as normal, but the truth is that it’s neither extraordinary nor exceptional. Children and youth are not on the sidelines. They are protagonists in the fight for their rights and their well being.”

Children want to have a say in the future that impacts them. Let’s hope the adults in power take notice.