Child reporters bring grassroots issues to the fore...
By Arun Anand
Sohagpur (Hoshangabad), Madhya Pradesh, December 2007: A group of girl students in village Gunadari in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh are spearheading a campaign to open a high school for girls near or in their village.
They have found an innovative way to raise the issue even as the state and local media don't think such localised topics to be important enough to cover.
A back-page report in a unique Hindi “newspaper” named “Phool jaise bachchon ki pehal”(Initiative by Flower-like Children) reported the story adding that the surrounding villages were all clamouring with the same demand.
The children’s newspaper is itself making headlines as about 25-30 child reporters go about meeting people and collecting stories on problems in the village, after their classes.
Three issues of the newspaper are already out and the next one is getting ready. The newspaper has been brought out on the initiative of “Dalit Sangh” a local NGO with support from UNICEF.
Dr. Gopal Narayan Authey, who heads the organization says, “We realised that mainstream media doesn’t have any space for problems at the grassroots level and the Sohagpur tehsil in particular, from where the paper is published, is one of the most backward areas of the state with a substantial population of the marginalized section of society.”
About a year and half ago Dalit Sangh, which implements social welfare projects in the area, selected 60 children to be trained as reporters from its centers. Most of the children belong to socially and economically disadvantaged sections that were totally marginalized.
The children were selected from 6 villages in Sohagpur tehsil including, Sitiagona, Markadhana, Chichli, Turakhapa, Jamunia and Semri Harchan, and trained in workshops.
In an exciting field visit, they were taken to visit the Bhopal offices of one of the prominent Hindi dailies of the state “Navbharat”.
Every issue of the four page children’s newspaper is full of interesting articles and reports written by the children, from their own perspective.
For example Devendra Singh Kushwaha, a child reporter in village Sitiagona pointed out in the June 2007 issue, “In village Sitiagona the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are not allowed to take water from the village handpump. After six decades of independence, it is so unfortunate that we have failed to get rid of “untouchability” in rural areas” he commented incisively.
Similarly Jyoti and Sarita Ahirwal, both child reporters from village Gundarai wrote in a joint news report in the latest issue of the newspaper of the dangers of getting girls married at a very young age. They appealed to everyone to report child marriage cases in their area to the police immediately.
Twelve year old Shiv Kumar of the village Aamdei, who is a student of Class VII in the same area, had recently gone to Delhi to attend the First National Convention of Child Reporters.” He said, “There are many problems in our village, there are huge power outages, sometimes water is not available, people often fight over trivial issues. I write about them.”
The newspaper was till now edited by Authey himself but he says, “We have decided that even the post of Editor should be held by a child. We also intend to make it a monthly newspaper soon.”
Currently about 500 copies of the newspaper are published. They are distributed through Dalit Sangh’s centers in Sitiagona, Markadhana, Chichli, Turakhapa, Jamunia and Semri Harchan. All the child reporters have their Photo ID cards accrediting them as journalists. The team also has a digital camera. All the reporters have been trained in basic photography.
The tag line of the newspaper clearly mentions that the price of every copy is “Children’s smiles.”
“This innovative experiment has also helped us in involving communities to a much greater degree,” said Anil Gulati, UNICEF Communication Officer in Bhopal, who has been closely associated with the project since its inception.
“We hope that where elders failed, hopefully the voices of children will succeed in making the social structure more inclusive and provide equal opportunities for growth to all at the local level,” Authey said.