Life in the slums of the national capital has made Jyoti more sensitive to people like her and their world.
Having spent a significant period of her life in a slum cluster in Nizamuddin, Jyoti, now a Class IX student, works assiduously along with children like her, to report stories which, perhaps no other news outlet, would even give a second glance.
Welcome to ‘Balaknama’ (Voice of Children) run by a group of street children.
Some 24 reporters work in their newsroom– among whom most were ragpickers — work assiduously to bring out the next issue of Balaknama. The eight-page Hindi tabloid mostly publishes stories on the life and times of street children.
16 year old Jyoti is the cub reporter of the publication which works out of the upscale Green park, in south Delhi.
With the help of a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Child Enhancement through Training and Action (Chetna), Balaknama focuses on the problems and vulnerabilities that the children roaming and begging on roads undergo.
‘Balaknama’ has done stories on the activities of such children which include rag picking, dead bodies disposal from railway station, begging, bonded child labour, human trafficking, sex rackets and drug abuse.
Jyoti has been doing such stories for eight years now. Before that she was into rag picking, begging and was a substance dependent too.
When a team of Balaknama reporters, including Jyoti, visited a slum in Badarpur for a story on child marriage, they were threatened. “We were threatened and were almost about to be attacked by the people in the slum,” Jyoti said.
“We did not only want to report the story but wanted to stop the marriage. We don’t know what happened to her,” she added.
Shambu, the 17-year-old editor of Balaknama, used to sell vegetables with his father before he came in touch with Chetna. “Life changed after I met with people at Chetna. Had I not been here I don’t how I would have messed up with it,” he said.
“Most of the mainstream media does not cover the stories we do. Balaknama is the voice of children and reflects the ugly face of the world that street children face,” Shambu added.
Apart from a team of 24 child reporters, Balaknama has some 70 stringers whom they term “batooni” (talkative) reporters who are aged between 12 and 16 years.
The batooni reporters observe their surroundings and the life of children around them and pass on the information to reporters, who write the stories for Balaknama.
“They are not educated enough to write themselves. They observe their surroundings and report anything which is alarming or dangerous”, Jyoti said.
Jyoti was eight years old when she got herself enrolled in evening classes conducted by Chetna for street children at a slum in Nizamuddin.
“I was sent to a drug rehabilitation centre. Today, I am a reformed person altogether and I thank Chetna for it,” she said.
After many reporters complained of not getting space in the paper, the two-page newsletter transformed itself into an eight-page tabloid.
‘Balaknama’ now has a print run of 5,000 copies.
“Balaknama has not only made these street children independent and aware of their rights but also given them hope to dream for a better future,” Chetna director Sanjay Gupta said.