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Children can often be the most resilient beings on the face of the earth. We recently met a bunch of children, underprivileged street children, who run a newspaper from its conception to its execution; because they wanted to make heard their voices and tell the world of their problems. This is the transcript of the wonderful interaction between our School Live reporters and children/reporters from Balaknama.
Sep 26, 2018 at 00:00

Kindly tell us the story behind the foundation of Balaknama.

The inception of Balaknama came about when the problems of the kids living on railway platforms or roadsides, were brought to light. Thereafter, the NGO, Chetna, conducted a survey with 35 kids; facing such situations, and tried to figure out the various problems that these kids faced regularly. The children were enrolled in leadership training programmes and were taught about their rights, and how to exercise them. However, among those 35 kids, some were able to voice their opinions, while some could not speak up about their problems. It was then, that the children thought of coming up with a medium to voice out their problems, opinions and concerns, and thus Balaknama came into being, where everything, right from reporting to editing, would be carried out by the kids themselves.

Tell us about an incident where Balaknama helped make a change in a kid's life.

My name is Jyoti and Balaknama helped me turn my life around. When I was 8 years old, I lived with my parents and siblings. Of my siblings, my brothers did not live with us due to their frequent spats with my father. My father who worked as a rickshaw puller, was an alcoholic and had the habit of picking up fights with the family members, when under the influence of alcohol. One day, my father started vomiting up blood and we found out that he was suffering from Tuberculosis. Since my mother had always been a housewife, it was I who had to step out of the house to work and earn for my family.

Thus, I started going to the railway station, to look for a way to earn something. For a few days I scanned the place for opportunities and eventually I started picking up rags with a bunch of other kids. Slowly, I became a part of these kids’ group, and as a member of this 'group', I had to take drugs, or else I would be bullied. Alongside drugs, I also started stealing, begging, and other such activities. I had to earn Rs.500 per day to pay for my father's medicines, which I did, but drugs had become a part of my existence.

One day I found out that my parents had moved to Jaipur, for my father's treatment and thus, I was left alone to live on the railway station. This further pushed me towards substance abuse. However, Manjula ma'am, a kind lady who teaches underprivileged kids, spotted me and offered to help me, an offer which I vehemently refused. A couple of months later, when my parents returned from Jaipur and found me in such a state, they urged me to join Manjula ma'am's classes. We had to submit all the drugs that we had on us, before each class, which I hated to do, but since I wanted to be a dancer, I continued with Manjula ma'am's classes.

Once I was made the South Delhi head of 'Badhte Kadam', I got a chance to interact with many other kids like myself and I also met my wonderful friends from Balaknama. I started out as a baatuni reporter, I used to tell Sanno didi my report, orally, and she would write it down. Slowly and steadily, with the help of my friends, I learned how to read and write and now I proudly support my father's medical bills with whatever I earn from Balaknama.

What is a baatuni reporter?

A baatuni reporter is someone who mixes themselves with the crowd and inconspicuously extracts information from the crowd, by chatting casually with them, or engaging in gossip. People reveal to the baatuni reporter, what they wouldn't to the other reporters.

In a country where the underprivileged kids are looked down upon, how do you manage to make your voice heard?

Underprivileged kids are bullied, beaten up and troubled by many, and these are the issues that we raise. Once we identify the problems of the children of an area, thereafter, we approach the Juvenile Justice officer of that area and  report to him about the injustices meted out to the underprivileged kids. Contrary to popular belief, our plea is heard and we are often invited to meet the senior officers and discuss our problems with them.

For instance, earlier, at the Nizamuddin station, the police officer used to beat up the kids working at the station. However, as our articles came out, the attitude of the police towards the underprivileged kids changed, and on 14th November 2014, the police offered a stretch of vacant space, in the nearby thana, to the kids, so that they could conduct classes there. Now, the situation is such that, it is the police that fights off people who trouble the underprivileged and working kids, around the Nizamuddin station area.

Shanno, since you belong to a conservative family, how did you manage to step out of the house and attend the classes by 'Badhte Kadam'?

Well, I did get beaten up a lot for attending the classes, especially since the classes were held in a cemetery, my parents could not understand why would anyone go to a cemetery to attend classes. 

I used to work day and night shifts at a factory and would sneak out to attend the classes during lunch break. I used to try my best to keep my family in the dark about it, but they did get to know from someone or the other and then I was thrashed for lying and sneaking out. I used to lie to my mother and tell her that I used to attend the classes in hopes of getting a job, which did eventually come true, since those classes led me to Balaknama.

Since writing for a newspaper is a matter of such prestige, do the reporters ever fight about getting their stories on the front page?

Yes we do fight, a lot. It often happens that the reporters refuse to file in stories for we had not published their previous stories. But that is all in good fun. We hold editorial meetings, where we discuss where each story should be featured, front page or not. We ask the reporters themselves, to rate their own piece and suggest the appropriate page where their story should appear.

Since you get to hear about underprivileged kids from all over the country, do you feel that you are able to provide justice for all of them?

When we interact with a community, we identify some common issues that the entire community deals with, and then we work towards its solution. This way, we make sure that maximum number of children are helped. For instance, if we have a bunch of families that stop their kids from attending the school, even when their kids want to, we educate the kids about their right to education. We also motivate the parents to allow their kids to study, we tell them about our lives and how education helped us turn our lives around, in hopes of making them realize the importance of education. However, sometimes we do have to threaten a couple of parents that if they don't send their kids to school, we'll write about them in the newspaper.

Do you ever face any pressure for discarding a story, that involves someone powerful?

We never cave in to any sort of pressure. Also, the name of the reporter is never published, thus, the anonymity is maintained and the reporter can carry out their work without any fear.

Kindly tell us about a few incidents where Balaknama was able to make a change in the life of others.

A couple of months ago, our reporter from Agra, sent in a report about 7 orphan kids, who were living with their grandparents and were perishing due to hunger. As the report was published, a few kind people came forward to help the kids, and to this day, those kids receive monetary help from those kind strangers.

Also, there is this ongoing cruel practise of making the kids, who work at the railway station, pick up the dead bodies off the railway tracks. A couple of months ago, in Agra, we came to know that two kids, under the age of 12, were forced to pick up body parts, strewn about the railway track. Needless to say, the kids were scarred for life. However, we took the matter to the higher authorities and were able to get an order issued against the practise.

How do you coordinate with your reporters?

We have certain meeting points, where we hold meetings. We have allotted different parts of the city to different  reporters and thereafter, we collect reports from them, concerning that area. We also distribute copies of Balaknama, to raise awareness. Also, there have been times when we have been asked to produce proof of a particular claim, made in the paper, so for that purpose, we keep certain audio bytes, and photos with us.

Do the MLAs, SHOs and Politicians help you?

Yes, they do, but our main aim is to change the way people look at underprivileged, working children. For instance, at certain railway stations, the police now allows the children to sleep in the waiting rooms at nights.

What problems do you face while collecting information or reaching out to people?

There are many, but the main problem that we come across is that people are unwilling to listen to us, for the reason that they do not know us. However, we do have our ways to get our word across.

How big is the Balaknama team?

Balaknama has 14 reporters and 70 'baatuni reporters', all over India, including UP, MP and Jhansi among the others. We try to get our word across by means of surveys, rallies, Nukkad nataks and presentations. We take up issues that require our immediate attention, for instance the sexual abuse of young working girls. Young working girls are lured into traps with drugs and are thereafter exploited. We educate the parents about the hazards of sending their young kids out to work, and motivate them to send their kids to schools.

We also motivate students to write for us and continue their education by giving them little gifts, whenever we publish their stories, for instance, last month, all the reporters received school bags as a gift. We hope that such small tokens of appreciation would motivate them to pursue their education.


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