Wearing a plain school uniform, holding a banner in one hand and a lunch bag in the other, a young lad marched on the streets of Padur last year. Apart from the words on the banner — ‘Kudiyai Vidu, Padikka Vidu’ (Give up liquor, let us study), it is the steely determination of the eight-year-old boy, A Aakaash, that caught everyone’s attention and spirited the anti-TASMAC agitation at Padur, a small hamlet on Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR).
Toys or clothes do not interest Aakaash. His worries belie his age. When a liquor shop in an inappropriate place needs removal or a poorly-maintained lake needs attention, Aakaash rises to the occasion with his father and together they figure out how they can bring it to the notice of the authorities.
Aakash rose to fame during the agitation in Padur, demanding that the Kancheepuram Collector close a TASMAC shop located in the residential area. He staged a silent protest outside the shop and later, accompanied by his father and villagers, went to the Kancheepuram Collector’s office to submit a plea.
He is not deterred by the harsh threats of the police or the unnecessary advice from locals. Ask him if he is not scared to be put behind bars, he says, “I am willing to go to jail, if it is for a good cause.”
Aakaash’s perseverance has played a huge role in the closure of the liquor shop in Padur. “It was a long and continuous fight. Credit should also go to the women and youth, who took part in the agitation, even when a few men condemned our move,” says a modest Aakaash.
This was just the beginning of many things to come. The widespread support he received boosted Aakash’s indomitable spirit and strengthened his resolve to face and take on the harsh realities of the world.
Aakaash has also motivated his friends and classmates to take part in a lake clean up in Kancheepuram district. A group of 100 volunteers including 20 children had cleaned Periyakulam, a ten-acre water body at Padur, off Old Mahabalipuram Road, last year. “I want to fight against bad governance and corruption,” says Aakaash, almost too polite and composed for his age.
Leading by example, Aakash’s father Chengai Anandan helped imbibe democratic ideals in his son at a very tender age. Aakash’s journey commenced at the age of five, when he campaigned for the use of helmets to be made mandatory.
Anandan is a constant source of strength and motivation for the child, and constantly inspires him to learn and procure the wide knowledge necessary to solve social issues.
Helping victims of child abuse
In another recent incident, Aakaash saved two young girls from repeated sexual abuse by a shopkeeper in their neighbourhood. Having overheard a conversation between two girls, aged six and seven, Aakash coaxed them to open up about the truth they were struggling with and promptly dialled the child helpline (1098).
“The girls were crying to themselves and were talking about how the shopkeeper had touched them in inappropriate places. I knew something was wrong, as I was taught about good and bad touch,” said Aakash. The girls had been threatened by the shopkeeper to keep this a secret. However, following Aakash’s advice, they informed their parents.
Ask Aakash about various helpline numbers, and he is quick to answer, correctly in all cases. “Unfortunately, the child helpline (1098) did not take up the issue as Aakaash could not explain it to them properly. I helped in recording the complaint, following which a case has been registered at the Kelambakkam police station against the shopkeeper,” said Anandan, his father.
How can an eight-year-old boy be so well versed in helpline numbers? “He has attended a campaign on creating awareness on helpline numbers. He picked up the numbers from there,” Anandan tells us.
Awards and recognition
Hailed as an anti-Tasmac crusader in Padur, Aakaash is acting in a feature film called ‘Kudimagan’ that revolves around how liquor-addiction damaged a family and orphaned a kid. The film is currently in the post-production stage.
In recognition of his activism, a New Delhi-based research foundation called Environment and Social Development Association honoured Aakaash with the ‘Green Award’ for his remarkable contribution to issues concerning environment protection, inappropriate liquor sale and child abuse.
As news about the non-formation of the Cauvery Tribunal reaches his ears, the young boy calmly asks his father, “Shall we do something about it, Appa?”