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Bhopal’s ‘editor’ cobbler on mission to empower

By Shahnawaz Akhtar, IANS,

Bhopal : Suresh Nandmehar’s tiny shoe repair shop at a footpath here is crowded every evening. As you approach it, you can hear words like social empowerment, caste atrocities and political opportunism. That’s because Suresh is no ordinary cobbler – he is the founder, editor and publisher of a monthly newspaper.Baal Ki Khaal, a four-page tabloid, was born out of a struggle against official highhandedness.

“In 1997, we sat on a 27-day long ‘dharna’ as we were being removed from the footpath, but the government was not giving us any other alternate site. Even after the agitation, government did not listen to us,” Suresh told IANS.

Numerous stalls at the posh Professor’s Colony here were shifted out of the main road.

“However, the irony was the role of the local media which did not given us coverage. At that time, I wished we had a newspaper that could make our voices heard,” he recalls.

Suresh, 48, is no stranger to struggle. Belonging to a socially marginalised Scheduled Caste community, he had to drop out of Class 10 due to his family’s poor financial condition.

“Because of lack of qualifications, I could not join a newspaper organisation like I wanted. But for over four years, I learnt about the profession from local reporters and others,” he said.

“Finally in October 2003, my newspaper’s first edition was published. Now, it is eight years and not a single issue has been delayed,” a proud Suresh said.

He has four children, two sons and two daughters – all studying in high schools and colleges.

“I have faced a lot of hardships. We never celebrated festivals and we do not have enough money for it. Sometimes, I could not pay the school fees of my children, but I did not let the paper’s publishing be halted as I have a commitment to my readers,” he said.

The editor cobbler spends the entire day scouting for news, and sits in his shop in the evening from 5 p.m. till about midnight.

His hard work is bearing fruit.

Baal Ki Khaal has 7,300 subscribers, while 10,000 copies are published every month. It costs Suresh Rs.8,000 to keep his paper running. Each copy sells for Rs.2. It also generates a modest sum from advertisements.

The most interesting part is the content. The paper has no place for murder, crime or sensationalist stories. The main focus is on Dalit issues and their social empowerment. Suresh also writes the editor’s column, where he touches upon these issues.

He is also helped by city-based writer Tikaram Ganotte and five others, who contribute to the paper for free.

“My brother-in-law sits in the shop till the evening. But I do not let my children to do this work,” he said.

Soni Kumar, 30, who works as an executive at a private firm, is one of the paper’s many readers.

“I read it every month and really find it amazing how a cobbler comes up with such writing. What is praiseworthy is that he is trying hard to educate and empower society,” Kumar said.

Suresh proudly says his paper reaches everyone, from the common man to bureaucrats.

Madhya Pradesh government’s Joint Director of Public Relations Department Dhruv Shukla told IANS: “Three years ago, I had come across this man. After knowing his background and his efforts, I had suggested to him to speak for Dalits so that it leaves an impact on readers.”

A content Suresh said, “I think I have not compromised with the motive with which I had begun this paper. And I am satisfied that it could spread awareness among my people.”