By Eklavya Raman:
In one of the rain baseras (night shelters) I visited with my father and his colleagues at midnight on 19th January 2017, I got to see a newspaper called Balaknama and to meet one of its reporters. The newspaper is mainly based on the lives of street children and looks into matters of police brutality, child labour and sexual abuse. The newspaper is the world’s first to be run by street children and has over ten thousand children working for it all across India.
It was Jyoti, one of the reporters of the newspaper, who introduced me to it. When we were talking to other residents in the night shelter she was staying in, Jyoti was asleep with her parents and sibling, in a very tiny space, on a small mattress on the ground with just one blanket to cover her.
She overheard us talking, woke up and was enthused to know that my dad and others are from an NGO (WaterAid India) since she knew about NGOs. She got up and told us about her association with Chetna, the NGO that runs Balaknama. She even gave us all one copy of the newspaper each, which was kept in a torn bag in the corner of the building. Then, she told us about the life in the rain basera.
When I saw how the people lived in the baseras, I was not able to understand how they survived in such unhygienic conditions. The street dogs were crowding all around the drinking water; the washrooms were unhygienic, two of them were locked and most of them were inconvenient for the differently abled.
I also observed that there were more people crammed in the tents and shelters than their capacities. In a tent in which hardly 10 people could sleep, there were 25 people already registered for the night. In a permanent shelter, the conditions were even worse. 180 people were sleeping in one room, which was far more than the total capacity. Also, the urinal, which was dirty and had not been cleaned, had a nasty smell, and there was only one common bath and proper toilet for the 180 people in the building.
In the night, all of the 180 people were locked down in the building. This was very unsafe as in case of a fire or an earthquake, there will be no time to open doors and the people would be buried under the debris. Even the caretakers were not behaving well with the people in the basera.
If I was in the place of those people, I simply would not have been able to survive in those poor conditions and harsh environment, but Jyoti manages even to do such great work for Balaknama, despite living in those difficulties!
I think all children in the world must have basic facilities that will help them live a better and healthier life. I realise that Jyoti and many other children are denied these.