Once a child worker at a factory, 22-year-old Sanno was beaten up regularly by her parents if she failed to bring home any home. Her life now has no trace of her past, as she now leads a pack of reporters, conducts workshops, holds trainings and delivers speeches at public meetings. The turning point in her life came when she joined Balaknama at the tender age of 11. She started as a Batuni reporter (information gatherer) in 2007 and now works as Advisor of the paper.
“Now, my parents regret beating me. They also get emotional at times,” Sanno told NDTV. “Earlier, they used to pressurise me to get married, but now they say, ‘study as much as you want’. I think that’s the biggest change I have personally experienced.”
Jyoti, 16, too, has a story to tell. She was 8 when her father, a rickshaw puller, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. A wannabe dancer, she started collecting garbage to earn some money. In her desperation, this she also turned to petty thefts and drugs, she says. With the intervention of NGO Chetna, she was put into a centre where she was counselled, trained and told about her rights and responsibilities. With her strong will power, she slowly quit drugs and found motivation to study further.
Jyoti started as an information gatherer for Balaknama. But she soon learnt to write and turned into a full-fledged reporter. She is now the National Secretary for the newsletter and a strong voice to raise the issues of children. Her dream now, she says, is to uplift the children who work on the streets, inspire them to study and do something meaningful with their lives.
For 17-year-old Shambhu, the editor of Balaknama, the newsletter has been a blessing. In 2007, his father brought him to Delhi from Bihar and he was asked to sell cucumbers on roads. He remembers the day when while selling cucumber, he got to know that a drawing competition was being held for children at a centre. Parking his cucumber cart outside, he took the colours and pencils and drew a picture of him looking at a beautiful school building, expressing his desire to study. “That day was the happiest day of my life as I got first prize and also got a colour and geometry box,” he recalled.
Now, he takes full editorial charge of the newsletter and plans stories with the reporters. He also reports special stories. Apart from taking care of the newsletter, Shambhu washes cars in the mornings and helps his father cook chapattis at a hotel in the evenings. His younger brothers have been enrolled in schools and he wants to help fulfill dreams of children like him.
Balaknama has 14 full-fledged reporters and 70 batuni reporters (information gatherers) who are spread across Delhi, Mathura, Agra, Noida, Lucknow and other cities. The eight-pager, which started selling at a price of Rs 2 and is now sold for Rs 5. The paper is supported by NGO Chetna.
Sanjay Gupta, the director of Chetna, said, “While the society looks down upon the children who work or beg on the streets, this newsletter is what makes the difference – a total empowerment package. In these 14 years, I feel happy to have closely seen the transformation that these children have undergone.”
Mr Gupta feels that the written and oral expression of the children has become powerful, they have become much confident and are able to counter others with logic. “This newsletter is their dignified space where they highlight the gloom, hardships and glory of the children like them. But I must add, a lot still needs to be done,” said Mr Gupta.
Talking about the challenges of running the appear, Mr Gupta said, “The circulation of the newsletter has gone up, we have 3000 subscribers of English paper, 5,000 subscribers for Hindi and about 2,000 are added to the mailing group and get an e-copy of the newsletter. Sustaining Balaknama, however, is a big issue. We get a lot of interest and encouragement from the people, corporates, but it does not translate into actual subscribers, and that is disheartening at times.”
(All photos by Vijay Kumar/Balaknama)