Tomorrow Dateline reporter Calliste Weitenberg looks at how the poorest kids in India are changing their own destiny and changing a nation in the process.
In Australia, like most Western countries, newspaper readership is rapidly declining, but in India the newspaper industry is experiencing an incredible boom. Rising literacy rates and a growing economy have created a new generation of readers hungry for their own stories.
One newspaper, in particular, is experiencing phenomenal success. It’s called Balaknama or ‘voice of the children’. The paper’s made entirely by street kids and is being read as far away as the UK, the United States and Australia.
This Tuesday, Dateline reporter Calliste Weitenberg travels to India to meet the extraordinary young reporters behind Balaknama – including 17-year-old editor Shambu and 16-year-old senior reporter Jyoti – as they hunt for stories and work to change the lives of fellow street kids.
Balaknama‘s stories are first-hand experiences and often confronting. “The kids who live at the station or the street really don’t have light or easy stories. There is not even a case study that is normal. They are all difficult,” Shambu tells Dateline.
“People drive past. Why don’t they help? They are disconnected and don’t care about the world around them. Once they know, maybe then they might help us.”
The street kids’ investigative-style reporting on their lives is already having an impact in India. The young reporters are publishing stories exposing the injustice they are experiencing on the streets. One of the paper’s biggest stories to date exposed police forcing street kids to pick up suicide victims from train tracks – a story that received so much attention in the press that it sparked an investigation into the police.
Balaknama is funded by a charity and reporters are given a small allowance so they can go to school.
Jyoti tells Dateline that some street kids escape their life by sniffing a glue used to fix bike tyres. – She’s done more than just write about this: “When I was eight-years-old I used to get high and scavenge and beg. My life could have ended or I could have been married off… If a girl lives at the station, her life is bound to get spoiled,” she says.
“I can’t do those things now. I am educated. Balaknama has energised me. I have left the streets and am at a good place in my life.”
More than two million children like Jyoti and Shambu are living on the streets of India*. Slums are growing by at least a million people every year**.
Often nicknamed the ‘invisible children’, India’s street kids live in the city’s shadows. But can rising literacy rates and the international success of a paper that speaks for them change their lives?
Tuesday at 9.30pm on SBS.