Pooja Pasi brims with vigour and enthusiasm and her eyes sparkle with the youthful energy of her 19 years. A resident of Shivaji Nagar, Dahisar, Pooja is a member of the Child Protection Committee (CPC) of Committed Communities Development Trust (CCDT), an NGO as well as the CPC at the local ward level.
Her journey with the NGO organised CPC began when she was just 15, along with other children in her neighbourhood. Now at 19, her grasp on civic concerns and the problems of the slum she resides in, are remarkable. She is particularly outspoken on the matter of girls’ rights. “There is a playground in Shivaji Nagar, the sole playground in the area. Here, only boys were visible. They would drink and smoke and there was very little lighting. Parents did not like sending their daughters to the ground. The girls themselves did not go there, even if they wished to, because they felt unsafe,” she says.
“Why should girls not be able to use the ground?” she questions, her voice assertive and firm.
Pooja was sufficiently moved to take the lead as part of the CCDT child protection committee and wrote to the corporator to install lights in the playground. “We also met the police and requested them to patrol the ground. The police understood our problems and now there is a police van near the ground,” she says.
These efforts paid off and the girls began using the playground. She says her real victory came when she helped organise a kho kho tournament in the playground for girls.
Pooja’s mother Hema Pasi, who earlier doubted her daughter’s actions, transformed into a vital source of support.
“My mother was initially opposed to my taking such an initiative. She wondered why I involved myself in such activities. But I explained to her that girls have the right to come out and use public spaces. I also convinced her to help me. In turn, she convinced other parents to let their daughters participate in the kho kho tournament,” says Pooja.
The girls turned out in large numbers for the tournament. Since the boys also wanted to participate, a separate tournament was organised for them.
“I feel proud that it was through my agency that girls could use the playground, which was earlier occupied by boys,” Pooja says with a smile spreading across her face.
As part of the two CPCs, Pooja has busied herself in a variety of community activities. “I help out in children’s school admissions, getting people’s Aadhaar cards made, and also participate in mobilising women in the community, whenever our neighborhood needs to put forth demands from the municipality or if the community needs to respond to any issue,” says Pooja with the air of someone who is already worldly-wise.
She is thoughtful when asked about the question of children’s rights, especially of girls. She feels that girls and boys are treated differently and thus have different rights, but it seems like she wants to give the matter more thought. “Boys get better treated than girls, which is why girls and boys have different rights. But why should girls not be treated at par with boys?” she questions.
A B.Com student, Pooja wants to become a bank manager, which she says will allow her to help others. “I want to be in a position of responsibility and help people to the best of my ability,” she says.
– Urvashi Sarkar