Slum Jagatthu is published by slum dwellers

You wouldn't find it on newsstands nor would you find its editorials discussed in the offices, and yet for a more than a decade, a modest monthly has been striving to represent the voice of more than a third of the city's population. Slum Jagatthu (Slum World), a 16-page black-and-white magazine, is the country's only magazine catering to the urban poor.

Started 11 years ago, the Kannada monthly has a readership of 2,000 spread over 11 districts in the State. With the slogan, “For slum dwellers, by slum dwellers,” the magazine covers issues of sex workers, pourakarmikas and slum demolitions, among others. The articles are received and edited by a six-member team in the office of the city-based NGO, Jan Sahayog, in Sampangiramanagar.

“We needed only Rs. 168 as initial funding, that is, the fee to register the magazine,” said Isaac Arul Selva, the founder. He himself is a slum dweller, living with his three children in Lakshman Rau Nagar where he grew up.

Having had education only till Class 4, he did odd-jobs till he landed in Slum Suddi, a paper funded by Jan Sahayog. When that publication closed in 2000, Selva started Slum Jagatthu.

Financial constraints from a limited readership (its cover price of Rs. 5 is out of the reach of most slum dwellers) and lack of advertising restrict the reach of the paper.

Language of marketing

When asked why he doesn't approach the burgeoning corporate industry in the city for assistance, Mr. Selva, in the manner of the best of editorial writers, points out: “They speak the language of marketing, while we speak the language of activism.” Activism is a policy they strictly adhere to.

The magazine refuses to print government ads claiming successful rehabilitation of slum dwellers in the city. “It's all lies,” he says. The State Slum Clearance and Development Board is adept only at slum clearance and not slum development; and with rehabilitation they're just plucking the slums from the city and placing them on the outskirts.

“Slum dwellers have not yet developed an (awareness) of right to property. They still think of themselves as encroachers, however long they've stayed at a place,” Mr. Selva says.

The magazine, which prescribes Ambedkarism, intends to effect a change in this attitude of slum dwellers. “Slums have gone from the hands of slumlords a decade ago to organised communities now with the youth engaged in activism. The next step will be establishing of slum leadership, that is, democratisation of the urban poor, and Slum Jagatthu is a major aspect of the process.”

The monthly, he says, works in the void left by mainstream media. “Mainstream media doesn't care for the urban poor because they find no readership there,” he says, describing their coverage as shallow. “Only the problems of the slum dwellers — the lack of water, power, and sanitation — are highlighted, without giving a second thought to why these problems exist there in the first place.”

Three years ago, the team launched a website, Janapara.org, which now houses the magazine's archives.

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