HAQ: Centre for Child Rights – The Journey..

The Inception

The story of HAQ, as is the case with most organisations like it, is also a story of individuals — their own journeys, dreams and vision. Indeed, all organisations and institutions find their genesis like this. The only difference is that HAQ’s birth is not a result of any one person’s dream or vision, but that shared by several people. However, once again, as is often known to happen, the responsibility to translate this dream into reality gets vested on a few people.

The Idea

The idea of a child rights centre goes back to the early 1990s when the two founder Co-Directors, Enakshi Ganguly Thukral and Bharti Ali were working in the Alipur Children’s Home, New Delhi. They had decided to enter the home after they had received unofficial information that a child had ‘died’ in the home when a caretaker sat on the child’s chest to punish him for “soiling the bed” everyday. The child had a problem controlling his bowels. This information came through a friend of a friend, a medical student, who was visiting the home to provide medical care to the children. This medical student did not want to be identified — so we will never quite know who she is. But clearly, there was a need to visit the home and check the circumstances in which children live.

Bharti and Enakshi (who were then both working with Delhi based Multiple Action Research Group with another colleague, began to visit the home. The directorate had allowed the visits on condition that they would not go to the press or publicise what they saw or felt. They would however give their feed-back to the Director, Social Welfare, Government of Delhi. These visits continued for over a year. The situation inside the home changed substantially. The Superintendent was transferred, a new doctor appointed, the infrastructure inside the home improved somewhat — children began to eat in the dining hall, the quality of food improved, the revival of the system for sending children from the home to the neigbourhood school was initiated. Unfortunately, the new Director was transferred and his replacement decided that visitors to the home were no longer necessary. So the visits stopped. But the seeds of an idea that was to see fruition many years later had been sown. Clearly there was a need to monitor and intervene in the lives of children, and the juvenile justice system definitely needed greater attention.

In 1996 a child was once again killed in a children’s home in Delhi. This time the newspapers reported it. The boy had been hung from the ceiling and beaten to death…..but this incident did not elicit any joint consolidated action from the groups that worked with children. Each group waited for someone else to come forward. Clearly there was a need for a child rights defence organisation whose mandate it was to address any violation. Once again the need for a comprehensive child rights was felt.

However, it was only in 1998 that the first draft of the concept note for such an “entity” got written. The need was identified. The first scribbles were converted into notes. Enakshi’s friend Nevena Vucovic Sahovic, a human rights lawyer, had just set up the Yugoslav Child Rights Center (she was till recently member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child). She sent her concept notes and proposals and became a distant moral force urging and encouraging a similar concept for India. Aanchal Kapur and Enakshi worked on the first few drafts. The introduction of e-mail in the country was providential, because that meant that despite full time jobs elsewhere they could exchange notes and drafts. These drafts were shared with Jaya Shrivastava (then Director of Ankur), and Bharti Ali who got enthused. Their comments and suggestions enriched these drafts. The idea was that the Centre for Child Rights must be located in an organisation working on children. Aftter meetings with several organisations, it was decided that it should be registered as a separate and independent organisation.

Name and Identity

Somewhere along, the centre got a name -“HAQ”. The idea was that the name must not be “soft”, because children’s issues are traditionally seen to be soft. The name must be rights based. The name suddenly sprung up in little chits that Aanchal and Enakshi were exchanging at an Action Aid meeting where a project in Ladakh was being presented! And the name has stayed!

With a name like HAQ, the vision of children with happy childhood had to be reflected in the logo. Taking from this vision, initially an art work was produced in-house by Shiuli Thukral and Atish Thukral (Enakshi’s children). This was further worked upon and the final logo came from a friend and well wisher, Rustam Vania (graphic designer,  environmentalist and a child rights activist at heart) that carried a gender neutral image of a dancing child in the ‘Q’ in HAQ.