In a practice room at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Private School near District collector’s office in Harda, this motley group of 20-odd children intently practices for the Republic Day cultural events. There are usual group and solo dances over hit Bollywood songs that are being enthusiastically done over and over.
But it is the practice of a short play that quickly holds attention. The kids – in age group of 9-14 years – seriously rehearse for the play where the storyline is more serious. The kids are enacting a social drama where a dark-complexioned girl cancels her marriage on the wedding day, because the family of the groom is demanding a better car as dowry since the girl is dark. The family of the girl is ready to give the dowry, but cannot afford the higher value vehicle, after which comments are made about the looks of the girl by the groom’s family. Though the girl’s parents also take her to task for cancelling the marriage, they finally see the girl’s viewpoint and ask her to move ahead in life, forgetting about her physical looks.
It indeed comes as a surprise to see the young children take up such a serious and complex social theme for their school play. But it soon dawns that the kids are part of an interesting project anchored by youngster Shubham Sangole under the Changelooms project.
The project name in Hindi – Bhedbhav Rahit Duniya (World without discrimination) – is self-explanatory, but only partially so. The anchor of the project, Shubham explains that apart from the usual religion and caste-based discrimination, the idea is to focus on skin-colour and physical looks based discrimination, especially with children, is extremely prevalent in society, but little talked about.
“Killing a childhood dream by commenting on someone’s skin colour or so-called defective physical attributes is equivalent to killing a person. I personally experienced this as a child when I was refused a lead role in a school play because I was too short, too dark and not so good looking. The budding actor within me almost died that day,” Shubham, commerce graduate coming from rural background shares.
But it was this childhood jolt and later experiences in society on the same issue that spurred Shubham to propose a project to try to instill the sense on non- discrimination (especially physical looks based discrimination) among children and through them among society.
Though his project was approved, implementing it on ground was extremely challenging for Shubham until he chanced upon the supportive administration of the LBS School. Now, 21 kids from class 4 to 8 here mentored by him are well aware on the issue of discrimination, children’s safety, gender equality and so on. Innovative activities like friends session where everyone is supposed to praise each other are organized to involve the children.
Jyot Bhusare, a class 8 student, shares that it feels extremely insulting and depressing to be commented upon for looks. But now she has learnt to ignore such comment and even asks her friends and siblings to do so. Muskan Khan, also of class 8 says that she would now start stopping anyone who mock people based on their looks.
Little Somnath Sahni of class 4 says that after associating with Shubham bhaiyya
he understood that both boys and girls can do any kind of domestic or outside work. Ayush Koge, his classmate says he now understands about good touch and bad touch properly.
At ground level, Shubham wants to extend his project to kids in other schools of Harda and on another level, he want to join the national and global level campaign against such discrimination, especially in context of promotion of fair skin and beauty products, endorsed by celebrities.
Introducing the project has also brought about an immense personal change within Shubham – who was earlier, a bitter and negative person by his own admission. “Now I understand that things can be changed and positive attitude it very important for this. I am working in this direction and find myself an improved person each day.”
Vimal Jat of Synergy says that Shubham’s project has touched upon a subject that is critical yet remains neglected. “He has broken ground and taken the first step. We are sure it would reach far forward and bring about desired changes in much larger section.”