By Kulsum Mustafa
LALITPUR (Uttar Pradesh): Cartoons do not always tickle your funny bone, sometimes they also make you frown and contemplate at the harsh reality beyond the visible. Twelve year old Anoop’s sketch, illustrating a primary school master sleeping in a classroom full of children does exactly that.
“They are being trained to become the eyes and ears of society.”
“We hope that these little activists will act as catalysts for speeding up social reform.”
Published in the maiden issue of Balvani – literally, the “Voice of Children” (in Hindi) – a children’s magazine made by children, this eye-opener sketch says a lot about the society around us. This simple and honest sketch led not only to the immediate suspension of the teacher but also won accolades for Anoop, a resident of village Talbehat, Lalitpur district in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh.
Voice of the Young
Anoop is among the 30 children selected from 10 villages of Lalitpur. Aged eight to fourteen, these kids are being trained to become child reporters by Saarthi Foundation, an NGO working for children in the area, supported by UNICEF. The sketches, text and poems produced by the children depicting the reality of their surroundings – at home, school and the community at large – reach key decision/policy makers in the district and the state in form of the bi-monthly magazine Balvani.
“The training aims to sharpen the power of observation and expression of the children helping them become the eyes and ears of society. It is a delight to see how creative and receptive they are; they have started making a real impact in the development of their community,” says Prosun Sen, UNICEF Communication Officer, who initiated this novel project in Uttar Pradesh.
Budding Journalists of Balvani
Child reporter Santosh is a multi-faceted personality. He writes lyrics depicting negative social traditions, sets them to music and sings them in his powerful voice. A born leader, he gives free tuitions to the out-of-school village kids and also keeps in touch with the village headman to influence many a decision. He is a shining example of how children can become partners in the development of society.
For eleven year-old child reporter Reeta, these conclaves are stress-busters. Third of seven sisters, Reeta wants to stand on her own two feet by getting a good education. With wet eyes she acknowledges her father, a clerk in the telephone department often being harsh on the sisters, as he always desired a son. “We understand how he feels. Even I miss not having a brother. Especially during festivals like Rakhi, I feel the pain intensely.”
Reeta’s distress about child marriages is depicted by a child groom cartoon in Balvani. She came across this child groom at a railway station and could not help wondering that if this is the groom, just how young the bride would be.
In sharp contrast to Reeta is Shikha. Studying in Class VI, Shikha is a spirited bundle of aspirations. Her ambition to become a District Magistrate, just like her aunt, makes her stand her out from other children, many of whom want to become schoolteachers. With a district judge as a father, a graduate mother and a sister studying medicine, Shikha’s family seems to have experienced true emancipation.
Surya Prakash is another shining example of child empowerment. Barely eleven, he already knows how to make government officials work.
“For mid-day meal at school we were given porridge every day. When the school authorities refused to change the menu, I showed the village headsman the complaint letter I was going to send to the education department. My trick worked and now we have a different menu every day of the week!” says Surya, proving thereby that children can act as catalysts for speeding up social reforms and aiding in carving a better and more peaceful world for humanity.
These child reporters truly prove the oft-quoted phrase: ‘Child is the father of Man.’