December 13, 2019
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In a Bangalore slum, the printed word is the voice of the people

In a Bangalore slum, the printed word is the voice of the people
In a Bangalore slum, the printed word is the voice of the people
Bangalore’s L.R. Nagar with its slushy mud roads, assortment of stray dogs, goats, chickens and children playing outside looks just like any other slum in the city. But there’s a difference. Among the 1,000-odd slums in Karnataka, this is one with a voice. Slum Jagatthu (Slum world), a monthly magazine, is the voice of the residents of these shanties.

Its editor, 30-year-old Issac Arul Selva, maybe a Class IV drop-out, but his understanding of the problems here and the need for reformative action makes him the right candidate for the job. Besides, he knows this world from the inside. Says Selva, "The public, press, government and even many ngos think of slum-dwellers as an underprivileged class. They don’t realise that we know our needs and want to put them across in our own way. If we need help, we’ll ask. But we should be allowed to speak for ourselves."

Slum Jagatthu was started with the help of a Bangalore-based ngo, Jana Sahayog. The idea was the brainchild of Y.J. Rajendra, its founder. Says Rajendra: "Slum residents have the capacity to highlight their own problems if given the platform and pushed in the right direction." Rajendra saw the need for a publication of this nature for three reasons. First, slum residents were deprived of first hand information. Second, reliable information on their problems was not available to interested parties. Third, exploitation by middlemen and misappropriation of funds was rampant and went unnoticed.

In 1997, the Jana Sahayog office was loaned out to launch the magazine. Talented and eager slum residents like P. Suresh, the magazine’s sub-editor and a sociology-economics graduate, were identified and given training. Thirteen workshops, in collaboration with other organisations, were conducted where journalists from language papers taught them the basics about computers and photography. After a dummy run of six months, in January 1998 Slum Suddi was registered and the reins handed over to the residents. Today, the only help the magazine team gets from its mentor is the office space. Following some registration hurdles, the publication was reborn as Slum Jagatthu in October 2000. The magazine has a modest circulation of 2,000 copies. But it has a subscription base that should make them proud. Besides being sent to 180 slums, it is posted to city corporators, ministers and government officials concerned with slum development, police stations, local MPs, mlas, ngos and many other organisations. The police are regular readers and even respond to the written word. At times, there is even praise from an mlc who says he keeps in touch with the slum’s problems through the magazine. Postal concessions, subscriptions and honorary reporters help cover the production costs. The major expense is the printing, which costs around Rs 7,000. A fellowship covers the costs of the three full-time employees.

The magazine reports mainly on the problems faced by residents, their success stories, information on legal rights, the creative efforts of residents (poems, short stories), people’s reactions as in letters to the editor, and the slum diary. The diary is a compilation of gazette reports, government policies, news from other publications and a list of events. This detailed column is the residents’ weapon with which they approach officials armed with information.

Last year, during the rains most of the houses in the slum collapsed. The corporation announced a relief of Rs 2,000 per house. But nothing happened after that. Slum Jagatthu reported the issue and it came to the notice of higher-ups. It was found that the officer in charge of delivering the compensation had misappropriated the funds. The officer was penalised and compensation given with due apologies. According to Selva, after the reports on the problems of the slum, Rs 2 crore was sanctioned for sanitation and water supply. The work is expected to start in the next few months.

Selva and his team also actively help in solving the problems of the residents who approach them. Says Selva, "Slum Jagatthu is our tool to interact with the people, and to be heard." The voice of more than 1.5 million people.

To know more about Slum Jagatthu, contact: The Editor, Issac Arul Selva, 5/B/4 Block, Ranka Park Apartments, 4,5,6 Lal Bagh Road, Bangalore 560027. Ph: 2243723.

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