Balaknama is a newspaper run entirely by street kids to voice issues that they face every day, learns Blessy Mathew Prasad
Every day, at about 9 am, Jyoti, 19, heads out with a notepad and a pen in her bag and a camera hung around her neck. She walks the busy streets and market areas of Delhi, looking for voices that are muffled in the midst of the bustling activity around. The vegetable vendor’s daughter who had been sexually harassed, the little boy who was forced to do back-breaking work, or the ragpicker who has no identity. Every day Jyoti captures these voices and tells the world about them through her pictures and her stories.
But Jyoti isn’t just any other reporter. She is just 16. She hasn’t attended any fancy J-school either. The stories of people she comes across is nothing but a mirror image of her own life. They are stories of street kids just like her, who now have a platform to voice their concerns, thanks to Balaknama, an eight-page newspaper that is run completely by street kids. In 2003, CHETNA, a Delhi-based NGO, was thinking of different ways to make these children truly feel empowered. “We visited markets, railway tracks, slums areas; we talked with the children, and what most of them wanted was for someone to listen to their problems. That’s when we came up with the idea for Balaknama,” says Sanjay Gupta, Director of CHETNA.
What began as a four-page quarterly Hindi newsletter, grew into a monthly, eight-page English newsletter, “We started getting help to translate the stories, but we have a very strict policy that none of the original flavour is lost,” assures Sanjay.
The editorial team consists of street kids. There are lead reporters in every district, and batuni reporters (who can’t speak or write too well, but provide all the information to the lead reporters) as well. “None of these kids have surnames. They prefer to be called by just their first names. There is no concept of religion or caste either,” says Sanjay. All reporters and editors undergo training on how to report, concept of a lead story, back story, principle of editing, ethics of reporting, and photography. The 20th of every month is the first deadline for all the stories, which is then approved by the editor, Shambu, a former child labourer. Like the name suggests, Balaknama (child’s voice) has opened up a pandora of issues about street children. And in case you’re wondering how it has changed their lives, there are hundreds of people across the world who are inspired by these stories and call to find out if they can help them in some way.