Photo Essay: India’s national campaign to raise awareness of child rights

In 1996, the CHILDLINE India Foundation (CIF) launched CHILDLINE 1098, a national toll free, 24-hour helpline in India providing emergency phone support and outreach for children in need of care and protection. A total of 36 million calls were answered by CHILDLINE as of March 2015, with over 600 partner organisations supporting the operation of CHILDLINE across 346 Indian cities.

Childline Se Dosti is a one-week national campaign run by CHILDLINE, with the aim of encouraging community members to become stakeholders in CHILDLINE 1098 and to raise awareness of both child rights and child protection. The campaign involves a range of events and activities across India to generate a million dosts (friends) for CHILDLINE. This photo essay highlights CHILDLINE campaign activities that I participated in with the CHILDLINE BREDS Pathapatnam office, as part of my 70-day Social work placement in Andhra Pradesh, India.



1. National Children’s Day – Outside a classroom at Government Zilla Parishad High School, flower garlands surround a portrait of Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first Prime minister of post-independent India. National Children’s Day in India is celebrated on Nehru’s birthday, November 14th, and is also the start of Childline Se Dosti. Nehru is said to have adored children who gave him the endearing nickname – ‘Chacha Nehru’.


2. Raksha Bamdhan ‘a bond of protection’ – Children tied yellow Child Se Dosti arm bands around Police from Hiramandalam Police Station as part of a movement to strengthen the partnership between children, CHILDLINE and community stakeholders. This activity also increases children’s confidence in accessing help. Police identified that the biggest safety issue for young women in this area is child marriage.


3. Signature campaign – CHILDLINE staff gain signatures from community members and youth at a bus station in Pathapatnam. The signatures will be photographed and documented records will be provided to the state government to bring awareness to the work of CHILDLINE.


4. Mandal Stakeholders Meeting – At the Mandal Development Office in Pathapatnam, stakeholders met with CHILDLINE staff and children with disabilities from local schools. This meeting aimed to increase awareness of CHILDLINE and children were awarded prizes for their posters. This child’s drawing depicts a child calling CHILDLINE (left) and the Hindu god Lord Ganesh (right). This elephant-headed god is worshipped as the remover of obstacles and the lord of new beginnings.


5. Saravakota street rally – girls from the local government high school joined the CHILDLINE rally and street walk. Children held placards promoting children’s rights, in particular the rights of the ‘girl child’, and raised awareness for issues such as child marriage and child labour.


6. Saravakota street rally – children held the CHILDLINE banner and placards to lead two rows of school children to rally through the streets of Saravakota. Ghanis (age 14) (far left) used my video camera to walk up and down the rows of children, filming them as they rallied down the street.



7. Pathapatnam street rally – twin boys from the local government high school join the CHILDLINE rally and street walk. A Police escort joined the rally on foot and CHILDLINE staff used megaphones to call protest chants in Telugu that the children responded to such as ‘Child Se Dosti – friends of children , Balaya Vivahalu, apaly apaly – Child marriage, Stop Stop and Balala Hakkulu Kapadudam – Protect Child Rights!


My social work placement in India is being completed with the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation

Poverty in India

Before travelling to India, I expected to be confronted by extreme poverty and wondered whether I would be able to ‘hack it’ or if I’d feel a sense of helplessness. In the first week of placement we visited an urban slum in Bhubaneshwar. This was a fairly new slum community that had developed over the last 10 years. Like most slums, it was established on government owned land along a railway line.

The people living here migrated from rural areas to this urban region to join their families, earn a livelihood and access education for their children. This slum was home to 1,400 households of approximately 10,000 people and was an organised community of families, schools and businesses including a kiosk, tailor, sari shop and a magician! The caste system still operates within the slum and our guide (a community member living within the slum) walked us down a ‘street’ within the slum where the ‘untouchables’ or Dalits live. She also pointed out the house on the edge of the slum owned by a person identifying as transgender. The way she spoke suggested that this person was most likely ostracised by the community.

Despite the slums being viewed as ‘problem areas’, field workers we spoke to acknowledged that the people living in the slums provide essential domestic services and support for the urban population outside of the slum such as the auto (rickshaw) drivers and labourers including carpenters, electricians and plumbers.

Villages in India that have become absorbed by city expansion may also come to be viewed as slum areas.  This slum was described as ‘politically powerful’ and we learnt how the community has lobbied government ministers for access to water and electricity. The government has also built an overnight homeless shelter in the slum and ministers will campaign strongly in the slum areas and make promises that will secure a large number of voters.

This experience really challenged my ideas of poverty as I came to understand that people living within the slums are not necessarily poor, they are just investing in different assets. And whilst they may be experiencing different types of hardship, the Urban Micro Business Centre (UMBC) across the road is an NGO aiming to empower the slum community via skills and enterprise training that leads to business ownership – a pretty innovative project!


In the second week of placement, we went to the local mela (fair) after dinner. As we stood around eating our ice creams a little boy, aged maybe 4 or 5, approached us and started to beg. This was different to other times I’d seen child beggars in India. This little boy looked hungry. And he was dirty. His little lips were cracked and dry and he was only wearing a pair of dirty shorts. He walked around the circle we stood in tapping each one of us and signally to his mouth for food. The Indian lecturer we were with became frustrated and yelled at him to leave. The little boy kept moving from one person to the next until a young adult male walking past hit him on the back and seemed to tell him to leave us alone. So the little boy left. And although I knew all the reasons not to give to child beggars there were so many things running through my head. Where were his parents? When did he last eat? Why was out so late by himself? Did anyone care about this little boy?


My social work placement in India is being completed with the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation

Understanding community development work

In the first half of my placement, I wrote about the struggle to incorporate case work experience into social work practice in India. Now that I understand more about the nature of community development work, I can look at social work practice in terms of working with the community, at the pace of the community.

I’ve also recognised that whilst I practice from the dominant Western ideology of individualism, the NGOs I am placed with work from a collective, interdependent community development perspective. This collective view doesn’t see individuals as separate, but as part of a larger group such as an extended family, village or tribe. This larger group has shared values, experiences and needs. Shifting my focus from individual needs to community needs, has been a really critical point in my learning and it’s literally taken me the last 9 weeks to get my head around this concept!

The last NGO we were placed with works with tribal communities in India to increase their awareness of legislation and government schemes, and to empower communities to access land rights. It’s been really inspiring to see this bottom-up approach to community development work, and I have learnt so much from my task supervisor. He is an incredibly hard-working, humble man.

When I was having one of my lowest moments on placement he said ‘don’t stop your tears…we’re all human’. And he just let me sit there and have a good cry. Actually it was an ‘ugly cry’, but after many mixed interactions with Indian men here, I really cherished this moment where he validated my feelings. It also highlighted what social work is all about for me – the human connection. So much of Australian (and probably Western) social work is administrative and that it’s easy to lose focus on the human side of it all.

Over the last month, I’ve been working on a photo essay to share some of the work of this NGO and the tribal communities we’ve been visiting. But after a conversation I had this week, I’ve been rethinking this. A project officer visiting from an overseas NGO told us that we need to be careful about the information we share online when working with tribal communities in India. She told us that her NGO was named in an Indian Government Intelligence report, and as a Christian organisation, the perception is that they are engaging in missionary work or religious conversion.

Although this is not the case, our task supervisor who told us that many people within the government perceive that NGOs working with tribal communities are involved in the ‘destruction of livelihoods’. I could appreciate this concern more if the Indian government was considering the broader context of colonialism, however it’s pretty ironic when you consider the level of corruption within the government and their failure to implement legislation.

Or the way they grant mining leases to their family members in blatant disregard for the people living on the land. But that’s probably all I’ll say about that here because I don’t want to be named in an Indian Government Intelligence report!?

Despite differences in the historical, legal, sociopolitical and cultural contexts between Australia and India, there are significant parallels between the position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of Australia and tribal communities of India, to exercise their human right to self-determination and access land entitlements.

Spending the last month researching and learning the policy frameworks for land rights in India has really highlighted the huge gap in my knowledge when it comes to Indigenous land rights and issues in Australia, and this is an area I want to learn more about.


My social work placement in India is being completed with the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation

Seeing the ‘real India’

Today is day 28 of placement. In addition to the social work learnings, there have been the day to day adjustments to life in India, including showering with a bucket, using a squat toilet and water instead of toilet paper, eating with my hands, and accepting that I will be served rice and yellow dahl for breakfast, lunch and dinner! There’s been public transport adventures via autos, buses and trains, the privilege of sharing meals and chai with families and tribal communities, witnessing communities celebrating Ganesh Chatturi and Dussehra, visiting temples, buying saris, seeing movies in Hindi and Telugu, and having a favourite Telugu song we sing to in the car!

Lately, I’ve really struggled with feeling ‘de-skilled’ on this placement and I’m constantly questioning how I can incorporate 10 years of knowledge and learning in to my experience here. The simple answer is that I can’t because this is community development work, not case work, but it’s almost impossible to view situations objectively in a cross-cultural setting. When I speak to family and friends and they ask me how I’m feeling, it’s too big a question for me to answer. For me, travel and living overseas create an environment of emotional highs and lows of emotions from week to week, but whilst travelling and living in India I’ve experienced this daily.

Then there’s my conflict about whether I’m going to be exposed to the ‘real India’. I first started thinking about this when we arrived on campus in September. The uni has a signs promoting safety for women and respectful relationships which I was really surprised by. But in the same month, a Tamil paper the Kumudam Reporter, posted photos (without consent) of women wearing leggings with their Kurtis (tunics) blowing up in the wind. The sensationalist paper has a history of misogyny and the article titled ‘Are leggings obscene? The youth are crossing the line’ was an attempt at moral policing and body shaming young women.

My conflict about experiencing the ‘real India’ has been present in our visits to tribal communities too. Whilst we sit and sip chai, chatting with villagers, the news reports an alarming number of rural farmers committing suicide due to the drought – an issue that hasn’t come up on any of our visits. And coming from a background in out-of-home care, I can’t help but feel that I’m not gaining a real insight to the welfare of children in India. Last month we laughed and drew pictures with school children from a an urban slum in Bhubaneswar, and just four days ago Police in northern India arrested four men over allegations that they killed two children from the Dalit community (untouchables) by burning them alive.

I keep reading that India is full of contradictions. This is true and I’ve become one too. I’m a social work student and I believe in fairness and equality, yet I’m already immersed in the class system and have drivers, cleaners and cooks taking care of my daily needs. Every day I battle with the patriarchy of living and studying in India. Issues of gender and safety mean I don’t walk anywhere alone. I’m always chaperoned, and one of my task supervisor’s 17 year old son and his friends thought it appropriate to assert themselves as our entourage at the train station. My supervisor tells me that a 7 year old boy would be considered an appropriate chaperone by some people, simply because he is male.

It’s a lot to take. I’m learning that I have to let go of the idea that I’m ‘just an observer’, to surrender, and to immerse myself in this experience to understand what is happening here.


My social work placement in India is being completed with the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation 

Reflections on life in India

It’s really hard to summarise everything that we’ve shared and experienced over the last few weeks of our Social work placement. We are learning from the moment we get up to the moment we go to bed. And I’ve typed pages and pages of reflections but my thinking is challenged so frequently that by the time I actually have wifi to post something, I already feel disconnected from what I’ve written the day before. Every situation and interaction is a lesson. This makes it both amazing and overwhelming at times, as there’s not a lot of space to stop and process each day before we’re moving on to the next. So, over the next few months I’ll post some reflections on different issues from my placement and if there’s questions that you have or an area that you’re interested in then let me know..


My social work placement in India is being completed with the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation 

Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi

Ganesh Chaturthi from Bec Jane on Vimeo.

Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi in an urban slum in Bhubaneswar! We spent the afternoon walking through the slum and meeting people in the community and then this happened…Thanks to Georgie for the awesome footage – one of my favourite moments in India so far!


My social work placement in India is being completed with the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation 

Kolkata to Bhubaneswar

(September 20-21)

On our last full day in Kolkata we returned to Mother Teresa’s house to see the museum and her tomb which were closed on our Friday visit. Petals shaped into words on Mother Teresa’s tomb read – ‘YOU DID IT TO ME’. This seemed a little sinister but one of the nuns explained that it was a bible reference. Any of the work that Mother Teresa did such as feeding the poor and looking after those with leprosy was done in the belief that she was doing it for Jesus. There’s been a lot of controversy around Mother Teresa and a statement in the museum denied allegations that Mother Teresa would only help Christians or converted the people she helped to Christianity.

Mid-morning we visited a colonial cemetery which claimed to have an ‘Architectural Fusion’ of tombs. We’re learning that ‘fusion’ is a popular word in India used to describe everything – food, clothing, architecture. It’s been interesting that despite the number of temples and sites in Kolkata, our guesthouse and driver continued to assume we would be more interested in visiting colonial sites.

We then hit the local shopping complex which was a stark contrast to the streets of Kolkata. We had some amazing food chosen by Jeyaletchmi (letchmi), watched a hindi movie, ‘Kati Bati’, and went clothes shopping at ‘FabIndia’ where we bought some clothes for placement. I picked up some Kurtis (long tunics), churidars (leggings) and a dupatta (scarf/wrap). When I told the shop assistant that I had plenty of pairs of black leggings to wear with my Kurtis he said ‘Madam, you need to be more colourful’. Clearly he’s seen my last 7 years of travel photos! Georgie and I found it hilarious that one of the fabrics was called ‘chicken curry’, only to read the tag later and find out later that he was actually saying ‘chickankari’ – a type of intricate embroidery?! Chikan comes from the Persian word chakeen which means to create delicate patterns on fabric.

Prior to checking out on our last day, we had a quick walk around the streets of Kolkata in search of an ATM and a few interactions with the locals. So far when people try to guess where we’re from they usually ask ‘England? America?’ and then when we tell them they say ‘Ah, Australia. Ricky Ponting’. And we normally respond ‘Yes. Australia. Ricky Ponting’. And that’s as far as the conversation goes because none of us have a clue about cricket!

After saying goodbye to the friendliest, smiliest staff, Suresh and Pablo, we jumped on the train to Bhubaneswar to start our placement. The journey was pretty smooth but I possibly should have experimented with a squat toilet before trying it out for the first time on a moving train!


My social work placement in India is being completed with the support of a grant from the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation 

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