Balaknama: A newspaper run by Delhi street kids
AS ONE of New Delhi's thousands of street children, Jyoti Kumari knows more than most about the goings-on in the Indian capital's desperate and sometimes brutal underbelly.
Now, the 16-year-old who has never stepped foot in a regular classroom, is putting her knowledge into print, reporting for a tabloid run by street kids and tackling tough issues facing the city's homeless.
Around a table strewn with drafts of stories and diaries, Kumari and other children as young as 13 are busy planning their next edition.
"We have 70 reporters now," a beaming Kumari said of her colleagues at Balaknama newspaper, meaning voice of the children in Hindi.
"We collect all the reports, verify them and then one of us types it out.
"After finalising which news will go on which page, we send it for printing."
The newspaper draws its stories from the mass of families and others living beneath fly-overs and on footpaths, and delves into issues of child marriage, sex and drug abuse and police brutality.
One of their biggest stories exposed how policemen used street children to carry bodies from railway tracks after a deadly accident or a suicide, forcing authorities to halt the practice.
Growing up with an alcoholic and sick father, Kumari and her five siblings spent long hours picking through rubbish to find recyclables, and sometimes begging, to scrape together enough money for food.
A visit in 2010 by a voluntary teacher from a non-profit outfit called Chetna (Childhood Enhancement through Training and Action) to her family's shack on a busy roadside in south Delhi gave her hope.
"I was very impressed when she told me the value of education and the opportunities for even desperately poor children like me," said Kumari, who moves along with others to a homeless shelter at night to sleep.
Chetna, which works with Delhi's estimated 10,000 street children, enrolled her in a distance learning programme run at the NGO and showed her Balaknama, which the charity oversees on its premises.
She was enrolled in a journalism workshop and within weeks was heading out on reporting assignments and conducting interviews, in between her new classes.
"We can change the way people think about us by voicing our feelings and concerns in our paper," said Shanno, the newspaper's consulting editor, who goes by one name.
The newspaper, which started in 2002 as an eight-page quarterly, has grown its readership to about 10,000 and is now published monthly.
But Sanjay Gupta, director of Chetna, said finding funds to keep the paper going is a major challenge. "We are selling the newspapers for two rupees (four Singapore cents) as of now. Still, not many people are buying it," he added.
Balaknama readers are mostly homeless children and their parents. As most cannot read or write, reporters like Kumari read the news out to them.