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Last Updated: Monday, 12 July, 2004, 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK
Indian slum-dwellers given voice
By Habib Beary
BBC correspondent in Bangalore

Selva and Suresh
Selva (standing) and Suresh - the slum magazine's mainstays
Their pride is unmistakably justified - a team drawn from the ghettos is successfully running India's first news magazine about slum-dwellers.

"Slum Jagathu", or Slum World, a monthly, focuses on life in overcrowded and neglected settlements, where most of India's urban poor live.

"It is not just a magazine. It is a voice echoing the struggle of slum-dwellers," says Isaac Arul Selva, editor and publisher, himself a school drop-out.

"Our ultimate aim is to inspire a movement to fight for our basic rights and amenities.

"I just could not continue my studies," says Mr Selva, one of eight siblings in a family for which survival was the priority, not education.

Life in a shanty for him was more than a learning process.

After several odd jobs, Mr Selva, in his early 30s, launched his non-profit magazine in the southern city of Bangalore four years ago.

"This is a unique project for slum-dwellers by slum-dwellers," he says.

Active network

Published in the local Kannada language, the black-and-white monthly journal has caught the imagination of young and old slum-dwellers not only in Bangalore but also in towns like Mysore, Mandya, Davangere and Hospet.

Forget about support from the IT industry, they don't want us around
Isaac Arul Selva,
publisher/editor

"The circulation has touched 2,500. The response is very encouraging" says Mr Selva.

He has an active network of reporters but encourages reports from any slum-dweller who has a story to tell.

Most of the contributions come by post.

The latest issue features the success of N Hanumanthappa, working as an office assistant at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management.

"I lived in a slum where hospital waste and animal carcasses were dumped. It was the pits but we did not give up," says Mr Hanumanthappa.

"Some of us got organised and fought for a better life."

Mr Selva adds: "We've also profiled a scavenger - Papamma. She earns 40 rupees (less than $1) a day by selling cigarettes. She not only manages her family with that money, but feeds quite a few street children every day."

Scholarship

In India as in other countries, the main problem confronting slum-dwellers is discrimination and a lack of basic amenities.

"We are all human beings. The government and the well-to-do forget that," says Suresh, the computer-savvy sub-editor.

Suresh had a tough time in school as his father, a parking attendant, earned a meagre income and barely managed to provide for the family.

Slum meeting in Bangalore
Slum residents at a meeting for better amenities in Bangalore

But a resolute Suresh did not give up his studies and actually excelled.

With a scholarship, he graduated in arts from the National College, a reputed institution in the city.

Suresh was not content with just a degree.

He dreaded the tag of being computer illiterate in a city that prides itself as India's Silicon Valley, so he took to computer programming with a passion.

"I am most of the time on the internet. Anything on slums anywhere in the world catches my eye," says Suresh.

The magazine covers issues from human rights violations in slums to government apathy in implementation of slum development programmes.

"We give information to slum-dwellers," says Suresh.

"For example, we tell them about the various government-aided projects and the budget allocated for slum development."

Rich 'don't care'

The magazine is apolitical and does not seek financial support from any organisation.

"We don't want to be a slave to anybody or get exploited. Our views are independent and free," says Mr Selva, recalling the magazine's land-grab exclusive involving politicians.

He is outraged by the couldn't-care-less attitude of a local software industry that breeds hundreds of millionaires who chill out in posh high-rise apartments.

This hi-tech hub is also home to over 700 slums.

"Forget about support from the IT industry, they don't want us around," says Mr Selva.

The magazine may not be known in the tech world but Mr Selva has plans to take his project online.

"We will use technology to spread information fast across the state. Internet access has become affordable even for those living in the slums."


SEE ALSO:
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10 Nov 03  |  Photo Gallery
Prince visits Bombay slum
05 Nov 03  |  South Asia
Bangalore - better by design
15 Dec 03  |  South Asia


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