June 16th, 2016
Written By Neha Rathi
Every time when we stop at a traffic signal, watching those street kids clad in torn clothes, living in extremely unhygienic conditions on footpaths and forced to sell petty things at signals, leaves most of us depressed. Everything around seems meaningless and many of us question the existence of God for troubling those little angels. This must have continued for years until today when you will get to BALAKNAMA and its team.
Newspaper run by street children
BALAKNAMA, which means ‘voice of children’ is a one-of-its-kind newspaper, which is run and edited by street and working children. These children were rescued by Badhte Kadam, an initiative of CHETNA NGO that works on rehabilitation of street children. The eight-page newspaper which cost Rs 2, publishes stories based on the lives of street children in Delhi and neighbouring states of Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. It explores issues like child sexual abuse, child labour, child marriages, police brutality as well as feel-good stories. The paper does not earn any profit and is entirely funded by the NGO.
In a dark basement of a building in south Delhi, a team of street children works relentlessly to transform their lives and of many others like them. In the first meeting itself, you will find the Balaknama team full of energy, eager to learn, curious to know your story and share theirs’. These are fearless faces that will leave their mark on your memory forever.
At the age of 18, Chandni, the Editor-in-chief of the newspaper holds the wisdom of understanding the importance of every news her team covers. She loves her role and her passion towards her work is visible in her conversations with the team. She mentors her reporters, questions them to figure out if they have a clear understanding of the story they are covering. Her energetic and forever smiling face hides behind the story of her life.
At the age of four, when her family moved to New Delhi from Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, Chandni began performing on the streets with her father as a dancer, singer, and tight-rope walker. When her father died of a stroke in 2008, 11-year-old Chandni was left with no option other than working as a rag picker and doing petty jobs like selling flowers at the signal to feed her family. Upon meeting volunteers from CHETNA in 2010, Chandni was enrolled in an open school program while receiving journalistic training. Afterward, she joined Balaknama and has never looked back since then. With a big smile on her face, she says, “People used to ignore me and felt disgusted by looking at me. And today, when I have become an editor of a newspaper, people come from far to meet me. My life has changed and so does of many other kids like me. Recently I was invited to speak at TEDx Bangalore. This looks like a dream that has come true”
This is not just Chandni’s story. Shanno, Jyoti, Shambu have similar stories and so does many other street kids like them.
Other members of the crew
Shanno, who is the advisor of the Balaknama, used to work in a cemetery all day with just a small lunch break in between. Her father who was an alcoholic abandoned her family and she was forced by the destiny to quit studies and work to manage the finances of her family. While working in the cemetery, she came in the contact of Badhte Kadam and that gave wings to her dream of writing. She was initially the editor-in-chief and was succeeded by Chandni after completing 18 years of age and now mentors the team as an advisor. She loves studying and is now completing her studies through open schooling.
Jyoti, the girl with a vibrant smile, who was once a rag picker and a drug addict is now the upcoming Editor-in-Chief and is an inspiration for many kids like her. On asking about how did she come to Balaknama, she answers with a beautiful smile, “My father was an alcoholic and a patient of tuberculosis. I used to beg at Nizamuddin railway station to feed my family. Since the station was far from my home, I started staying there. Slowly, in the company of other children, I started substance abuse and other bad practices. One day I came in touch with the members of Badhte Kadam at the railway station and I started attending their camps. I always loved dancing and that motivated me to be regular at the camp. Slowly, I left all the ill practices.The Badhte Kadam team also took me for a residential training program at Dehradun and after returning to Delhi, I was credited as the Badhte Kadam leader of South Delhi district. My story and photos were published in the newspaper. This motivated me and I felt special. Since that day I have never looked back. Soon, I will succeed Chandni Didi as she will 18 be soon.”
Shambhu, who initially seems to be silent, takes his time in opening up and tells proudly about him. The young boy who loves to study now, once used to sell fruits at the bus stops. Later he started working in a restaurant and was beaten up by the owner. This continued until one day when Shambhu got in touch with the contact person of CHETNA. Shambu was brought to the camp. He recently gave his 10th standard exams through open schooling and wants to continue his studies. During morning hours, he collects news from street kids and his evenings are spent in washing cars to manage the finances of his family. Chandni proudly introduced him as the best reporter of her team.
What a change it is
These kids are just not publishing a newspaper, they are bringing a change that many of us keep thinking of. There have been times when they had received life threats as well for covering a story but their courage has no limits. The Logical Indian team salutes these change-makers. We feel deeply inspired from them and motivated to serve our purpose of being on the planet.
– Neha Rathi