Thirteen-year-old Priyanka Saha ran away at age nine from an orphanage where she would be beaten up and not given enough to eat. Now, the day boarder of Hridaypur Nabashopan, an NGO near Barasat, is talking about her experiences on 90.8 FM, the Jadavpur University (JU) community radio channel set up in April under the School of Media, Communication and Culture.
Child Radio Reporter is about lending an ear to underprivileged children as they talk about hardships they have suffered, voice their grievances and question the authorities for their negligence.
Under a joint initiative by JU and UNICEF, 20 of these children, between 12 and 17 years, mostly from south Calcutta NGOs, were shortlisted to participate in the programme, to be aired from Children's Day on every Sunday at 5pm.
Says Ambalina Roy, an M.Phil student of the School of Women's Studies, who also works at Radio JU: "We went to the NGOs and selected the youngsters from the brief performance each had put up."
Those selected were trained by Radio JU members in the course of six workshops. They learned the essentials of speaking on air, interviewing people ("Abhishek Das, our programme coordinator, dressed up as actor Prosenjit and we had to interview him," smiles Priyanka), hosting and recording a programme.
On October 26, the channel aired an interview of Karin Hulshof, the director of Unicef, India, conducted by four children. "The students spoke on social malaises they had experienced firsthand, including fathers beating up mothers, girls being married off young and trafficking," says Nilanjana Gupta, the director of the School of Media, Communication and Culture.
And they don't want to stop at just talking about it. "They want to ask cops questions like why they delay filing FIRs if the complainant hails from a poor background and why illegal liquor shops are often allowed to run in a locality," added Gupta.
"India is a signatory to Article 12 on Convention on the Rights of the Child, according to which a child's rights include being able to speak out on issues that affect kids. This programme aims to do that," explains Anil Gulati, the communication officer of Unicef.
"The issues raised were selected by the kids themselves, rather than being initiated by us," adds Gupta.
For Priyanka, who has lost her mother, the issue first on her mind was the problems faced by an orphan, too young to take on the world. "No one really comes forward to help such a person," she says.
"We hope that in the course of the programme, the youngsters will learn of the options available to them to redress their problems," says Gupta.
Priyanka is clearly enthused by the experience. "I have been practising hard. Along with three of my friends from the home, we have done mock interviews with our didi," she gushes. Didi, Ratna Roy of Hridaypur Nabashopan, agrees. "They conducted the recent Vijaya Sammilani programme all by themselves. Their confidence has increased by leaps and bounds. Two capsules on child labour and domestic violence are next on the cards. "The children will be interviewing legal experts and police personnel for these segments," says Gupta.
Telegraph, Kolkata, November 4, 2008