Community magazines try to keep pace with changing lifestyles

Below is an article by Nergish Sunavala on the above topic. Parsi Khabar is happy to be mentioned, in the august company of others like Parsiana.

Amongst the dwindling Parsi community, interfaith marriage has long been a contentious issue. So in 1988, when Parsiana, a liberal community magazine, began listing interfaith unions in its “milestones” column, it created a storm. Orthodox factions argued that the inclusion could be seen as encouragement. “People hated us for that,” recalls the editor of the half-century-old publication, Jehangir Patel. “They stopped advertising and subscribing. They didn’t even want to be in the same room with me.” But Patel stuck to his guns. “We were just reflecting the reality,” he points out.

thumbToday, Parsiana has a meticulous record of the quantum leap in interfaith unions. Besides creating an archive and resource for future historians, community magazines feed a deep-seated hunger for information about one’s own history, culture, community activities and current events. From the 30-lakh-strong Gujaratis to the Jews, who have dwindled to just 4,000 in Greater Mumbai, every community is churning out publications like Chitralekha, Shaili and Kol India (kol means voice in Hebrew) to meet this demand. Online forums like Parsikhabar.net, Zoroastrians.net and the Progressive Dawoodi Bohras have also popped up in the last decade.

For instance, East-Indians.com was set up as an online resource to help members lobbying to get the community included as an Other Backward Class (OBC). In 2006, they were included in the list. The website’s founder, Prem Moraes, claims his portal played a key role in making the idea palatable to wealthier members, who may have otherwise objected to the OBC tag. “With more interaction, you understand each other’s issues,” explains Moraes. “So, rich people slowly realized that poorer sections of the community would benefit tremendously and it wouldn’t really impact their lives.” The website and Gaothan Voice, a monthly newsletter circulated since 2003, have also been championing the return of East Indian lands, appropriated by the government for development projects in the 1950s. “Awareness on such issues has increased by 500%,” says co-editor Alphi D’Souza.

Though Gaothan Voice’s print-run has increased to 3,500 from 200 in 2003, the honorary editors recently decided to reduce its frequency because of a lack of funds. Most community publications rely on advertisements, sponsorships, donations and subscriptions. Patel says that each issue of Parsiana costs about Rs 5 lakh to produce with a staff of 14. Though it initially had a Gujarati section, today it is written only in English.

This switch is an emerging trend as community magazines struggle to reach the youth and expats, who are more fluent in English. Kol India, started in 1995, initially differentiated itself from other Jewish publications by being bilingual. Today, it has only a few Marathi articles. Editorials cover community issues like migration to Israel and whether the Jewish prayer service should be in Hebrew or Marathi.

Often new publications are started when a certain section of the community feels under-represented. New York resident Arzan Wadia started Parsi Khabar a decade ago because he felt the existing publications were either too liberal or too orthodox. The articles on his website are curated from other news portals with about 20% original content. The Progressive Dawoodi Bohras forum, run from Canada, gives members a space to vent against the priestly class without facing ramifications.

Since the 1970s, the reformists have also been bringing out a bilingual journal nowcalled Bohra Chronicle, which has been shunned by the community’s religious head for its criticism of the Bohra hierarchy. It has a circulation of 10,000, says Irfan Engineer, an occasional contributor to the journal. “Some readers, who are scared, ask us to post copies to a friend’s house or to a nearby shop.”