May 2, 2005

PROJECTS: Child-speak on video (INDIA)

Child-speak on video

Children make films to express their views on issues that impact their lives. NITIN JUGRAN BAHUGUNA

KOPPAL and Raichur districts, Karnataka, have one thing in common with all other districts in India ? a population that is not respected and often looked down upon as a liability by society, a population that is forced to live a life of tears.

These, in effect, are the opening words of a 10-minute documentary on disability. It examines the stigma and indifference with which families and communities regard disabled children.

Although the theme is not new, it is handled with a distinct clarity and sensitivity. That children have made the film and narrated it underlines the seriousness with which today's 12-18 age group looks at issues such as disability, illiteracy, child labour, sexual exploitation and child marriage that impact their lives.

"A Life of Tears" tells the story of young Nagamma. The mentally challenged girl is left at home for long hours every day while her parents and siblings leave for work and school. Her parents leave food for her with the neighbours, but they often forget to feed her. Now the whole village is her playground. But when she attains adolescence, her parents will lock her up at home like Radhama's mother.

Earlier, Radhama roamed about the village and followed anyone who offered her food. Once a man lured her to his house on the pretext of giving her something to eat and raped her. Radhama became pregnant and subsequently delivered a stillborn baby. The incident shook her mother and now she won't let her daughter out of sight.

The documentary moves on to the touching and inspiring story of Yellappa. An adolescent boy who, despite wearing a brace on his left leg, regularly attends school. He ignores the constant jeering and discrimination of teachers and peers alike in the hope of getting an education and building a future for himself. If the bus does not come, Yellappa trudges eight km to school. When he gets there, the other children won't let him play with them. "They don't call us by our names, but by our disability. When we fall down, they laugh at us. I feel very humiliated," he says. Incidents such as these as well as the absence of ramps and toilets dissuade many disabled children from attending school, he adds.

Yellappa's parents feel it is useless to spend money for his education because he is handicapped, but the boy works on weekends and summer holidays so that he can stay on in school. The short documentary does not attempt to analyse or give sermons. It simply presents the story of these children and concludes with the simple message that discrimination begins at home and that this is the place where perceptions must change.

Another interesting experiment in film ? using animation ? made by children of a south Delhi resettlement colony investigates children's need to have accurate information on safe sex so that HIV/AIDS can be prevented. An 11-minute film, "A Misguided Life" begins with children watching a TV advertisement for birth control pills. When they ask their mother what the pills are for, she declines to answer. When their older brother Sumit, the main protagonist, returns from work, he also refuses to tell them until he remembers what happened when he was younger.

Sumit was also not informed about the changes his body was going through during adolescence. First his father refused to explain and then his teacher skipped the relevant chapter in the textbook. Uncomfortable with the natural sexual desires he felt, Sumit sought to satisfy them first with younger boys and then with sex workers. Subsequently, he was diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The doctor told him he was lucky not to have been infected with HIV, and counselled him on safe sex practices. Sumit then decides to inform his siblings about sexual desires and safe sex so that they don't repeat his mistakes.

About 20 children from Badarpur and Sangam Vihar in south Delhi were involved in the making of "A Misguided Life", says Umesh, programme officer with Community Aids Sponsorship Programme (CASP), a local NGO which promotes awareness on children's issues and has coordinated the production of the documentary. The objective is to give children a platform to raise and discuss issues that concern them.

For Nirmala and Meenakshi, for instance, "A Misguided Life" raises relevant adolescent concerns about sex and sexuality. Meenkashi, 17, has been associated with CASP for three years and is a member of its Bal Panchayat (children's council), which discusses children's issues. Nirmala, 18, recalls her initial hesitation as people in her locality made fun of her when she went around with a camera. "But now both parents and children are concerned with the adverse effects of the media and are more open to discussing sensitive issues," she remarks.

Since its inception in 1999 by Plan India, a Delhi-based NGO, the project "Children Have Something to Say", (funded by Plan, Netherlands), has given children an opportunity to deliberate on various issues. These include education, dowry, female foeticide, traditional practices, substance abuse, trafficking, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence and sexual exploitation.

The two films were among several made by children, which were screened in Delhi recently. The project, involving over 300 children between 12 and 18 years from 13 organisations across seven states, has yielded 40 documentaries so far, says Nidhi Pundhir, project coordinator of Plan India. More importantly, the children learn that they too have a voice that should be heard and respected.

Courtesy: Women's Feature Service

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