Touching lives, building hope - meet Bangalore’s ’slum heroes’

February 19th, 2009 - 2:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Feb 19 (IANS) The much celebrated “Slumdog Millionaire” is a fairytale saga of rags to riches captured on celluloid, but in real life the climb towards a better and more equitable existence is a relentless struggle. Just ask Bangalore’s ’slum heroes’ who wage a quiet battle to better their lives and of those around them.

No Jamal - the protagonist of the hit film who becomes a millionaire many times over when he wins a quiz show - here but slums in this IT hub house many heroes fighting against odds to change the lives of the urban poor.

Like Isaac Arul Selva, 38, a slum dweller in L.R. Nagar, who is the founder member and editor of Slum Jagatthu (Slum World), a magazine that focuses on issues related to the urban poor. The 30-page black and white magazine in Kannada was started in October 2000.

Then there is 10-year-old Gaja, a former child labourer and now a student of Bornfree Art School International (BASI) for underprivileged children in south Bangalore, who is ready to spread the message of peace after he and 32 other cyclists travelled 2,800 km to reach the India-Pakistan border in Wagah Nov 1, 2008.

Also meet Subramani, in his mid-40s, who has dedicated almost 10 years of his life to provide drinking water in the slum area of Ambedkar Nagar.

Stories are galore about men like Selva, Gaja and Subramani.

“The magazine has been my dream since I was a teenager. I wanted to give a voice to the issues of slum people, who have been bereft of proper food, housing, health and education facilities,” said Selva, who edits the magazine from the cramped building of Jansahayog, an NGO at Jayachamarajendra Nagar.

“Although over the years we have fought against many odds, mostly raising finances to keep the magazine afloat, we are happy that through the magazine we have succeeded in touching the lives of many slum dwellers,” Selva said.

Asked what he thinks about “Slumdog Millionaire”, nominated for 10 Oscars and slammed by some who say that it sells the country’s poverty on celluloid, Selva said there was nothing wrong in showing reality.

“The film was an honest attempt to portray the life and struggles of people in slums. I see nothing wrong in showing reality on celluloid. Through the film, the cause of urban poor got some attention,” said Selva, hoping the film will sweep the awards on Oscar night.

Selva, however, noted that a film cannot change the fate of millions of slum dwellers in India.

“A concentrated effort is needed on the part of the government, NGOs and slum dwellers themselves to change the poor status of slum people,” he said.

Agreeing with him, Subramani said it was wrong to expect a film to empower millions of Indian slum dwellers.

“But I am happy that a director of Boyle’s calibre took the pain to explore issues close to people of Indian slums. Be it politicians or bureaucrats, problems of slums hardly attract anybody’s attention. Slum dwellers need to be educated first, so that they could take up their cause with the authorities,” he said.

Gaja, still fresh from his recent trip to the Wagah border, told IANS that he would like to dedicate his life for the betterment of slum areas of Bangalore once he completes his education.

“The cycle expedition was an eye-opener for me. I learnt a lot about India and its people during the month-long trip. After graduation, I would like to work for providing education to each and every child in the slum areas of Bangalore. This way we will stop child labour and contribute to the growth and prosperity of slum areas,” said Gaja.

Activist T. Maliyan, who is pressing municipal officials to get the roads through the Sanjay Gandhi Nagar slum asphalted, also believes that slum dwellers have to be empowered through education to take up their issues.

“Residents of slum areas have to take the responsibility of uplifting their own status. The government is not bothered about uplifting the situation of the urban poor. A concentrated effort needs to be taken up to change the poor living conditions of slum dwellers,” said Maliyan.

India’s Silicon Valley is home to around 800 slums. According to figures available with the municipal corporation, Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagar Palike, approximately 600,000 people live in Bangalore’s slums, out of the city’s eight million population. The slum population is projected to go up to one million by 2010, when the total population is expected to reach 10 million.

(Maitreeye Boruah can be contacted at m.boruah@ians.in)

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