Balaknama is a New Delhi-based newspaper that breaks social conventions. Its reporters, editors, and contributors are from what many consider the lowermost rung of the Indian populace: slum kids. But they are re-defining their role in society and providing a mouthpiece for themselves and their often-overlooked peers.
One reporter, Shambhu, works at a hotel during the night, washes cars during the day, and still finds time to write stories. Another contributor, 14-year-old Jyothi, used to collect trash from the street for salvage money. Now she is a district leader for the newspaper. Chief Editor Chandni (age 16) is in charge of compiling reports from across four states and deciding what stories are featured in the quarterly newspaper. The N.G.O. Chetna helps cover the expenses of producing Balaknama’s. The child reporters are not paid, but do receive a stipend for travel to cover a story. Chetna also provides education and training for these novice journalists.
Even though only half of Delhi’s slum population is literate, Balaknama enjoys great popularity and success — its readership is in the tens of thousands. Some reports focus on good deeds that street kids have done, while other stories are more hard-hitting. Topics tackled in the past include child marriage, police brutality, and abuse. The stories often reflect the tough lives that Balaknama’s contributors live.
Street kids in India do what they can to survive, from hawking wares at busy intersections to begging and rag-picking. They face constant danger in the form of verbal, physical, and sometimes sexual abuse – oftentimes at the hands of the police who are supposed to be protecting them. Many have abused drugs to escape the daily challenges of life.