Where The Streets Have A Voice

Street-children of Delhi give themselves a voice. By writing, editing and publishing their own newspaper.

BySatyen Rao
Where The Streets Have A Voice
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I always turn to the sports section first. The sports section records people’s accomplishments; the front page nothing but man’s failures.- Earl Warren, quoted in Sports Illustrated, July 22, 1968

This is a story about a newspaper that is a remarkable accomplishment in itself. In 1968, Earl Warren had voiced his dissatisfaction over the fact that the front page didn’t carry man’s accomplishments. Point noted. Meanwhile, in 2003, a small group of street-children in Delhi were dissatisfied with the fact that no newspaper was carrying any news on any page on the lives of and issues affecting children on the streets of Delhi.

This group of children, 35 in all, formed the core group of ‘Badhte Kadam’, a federation for children in poverty and on the streets. All they wanted was for their voice to be heard – the voice of pain, sorrow, joy, failure. Anything. But nothing happened. Up against a roadblock, the children did what anybody in their place, with their limited resources, knowledge and experience would do – decided to start their own newspaper called Balaknama with content contributed and edited entirely by children. Of course this story hasn’t been carried on the front page of any newspaper. Over a period of ten years, the children have published 46 issues of the Hindi quarterly and Badhte Kadam now boasts of around 10,000 members across Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Instrumental in supporting the newspaper is an organisation called CHETNA (Childhood Enhancement through Training and Action). They focus on helping children step away from the streets and step into classrooms. I visited the CHETNA office, to meet with a few key characters who’ve helped see this newspaper through to fruition.

It was a hot summer’s afternoon in Delhi and even the fans in the minimalist office weren’t helping. Enter 18-year-old Vijay, National Secretary of Badhte Kadam and editor of Balaknama. His smile, confidence and demeanour reminded me of a cool metaphor that involves a cucumber. And he very coolly spoke to me about his involvement with the newspaper.

Vijay’s positive energy can be seen radiating from the pages of Balaknama, which must bring smiles to the children who see their names or pictures in it and also give them a sense of empowerment – which is crucial in helping the children feel their voice matters. Vijay then went on to explain how Balaknama is structured.

I also met with the other editor of Balaknama –Shanno, a sharp and ambitious 17-year-old who spoke to me about the political themes that are included in the newspaper in an effort to increase awareness and bring about change.

If ever there was a literal embodiment of street-smart, then Vijay and Shanno are it. According to Shanno, the voice of the children can be a powerful force in the near future and through Balaknama she looks forward to bringing about change by influencing government policies and giving street children something to aspire to and hang on to. The key takeaway from my interaction with the young editors was that the newspaper has created a unique identity – a pure, unbiased, innocent and honest voice for the children. I spoke with the founding Director of CHETNA, Sanjay Gupta, to get a final word on the achievement of these young children in publishing this unique and formidable quarterly Hindi newspaper.

A newspaper of the children, for the children and by the children; the vision outlined by Sanjay Gupta and a vision echoed by all the children involved with this project. Easily said and easily done as well. At the risk of hacking at our own foot, print media is still very much alive and one of the main sources of information and hope to men, women and children in every street and gully across India. These very children who have grown to become reporters, writers and editors with no formal training or technical know-how, have made themselves heard and reached out to other children on the street through print. They would not be able to do the same online. Even if they were given the training and resources to publish news in the virtual space, it would not be able to reach their readers because they do not have access to this medium. Not yet, anyway. And to all those of us who thought publishing a newspaper is no easy task, these children definitely make it look like it’s just child’s play.

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