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The feminist journal that survived
'Miloon Saryajanee', the Marathi feminist journal, combined cause and commerce - and succeeded.
While most trenchant feminist journals have either packed up or gone online, there is one that continues to bravely, and successfully, sell to a staunchly loyal readership - Vidya Bal's Marathi magazine 'Miloon Saryajanee' (Women's Forum).
The journal reflects Bal's own concept of feminism - assertive, not aggressive, participatory, not hectoring. Launched 22 years ago in Pune, it has survived several ups and downs because its readership base extends across several classes of women - from rural and semi urban to urban. And the magazine keeps itself highly readable with emphasis on reader participation.
"The idea behind founding Miloon was to make women aware as individuals in society and in the family, by going beyond the ambit of a mere movement. We chose the middle path and focused on women-related issues, information as well as entertainment-based content. A participatory methodology was put to use wherein women from all walks of life could come forward and express themselves, " says Bal.
She started her journal at a time when other women-centric magazines in the city were closing down due to the disheartening economics of the business. But Bal, who had cut her teeth in the once highly successful 'Stree', had a good idea how she wanted to take the magazine forward.
"Given the precarious scenario back then, I trusted my gut instinct and with contributions worth Rs 1. 5 lakh, collected from well-wishers and friends, I took the risk of launching Miloon. Never had I thought the magazine would run for so many years, " says Bal.
A healthy mix of activism and a literary-artistic format was chosen to give Miloon a unique personality. Unlike many journals of this genre, Miloon takes a great deal of pride in asking for reader contributions. "We consciously created a space for urban and rural women, who have regularly contributed to our magazine in terms of news features, prose, poetry, interviews and the like, " says Bal. Miloon has prided itself on taking on gender stereotypes but has chosen not to turn shrill - the emphasis has always been on dialogue, not confrontation. For instance, it invites men and women to write on successful relationships with their spouses, in-laws and relatives.
Today, Miloon enjoys a subscription base of around 2, 300 readers across 300 cities in India as well as in the UK, USA, Australia, Nigeria and Kenya. Bal believes that this is a great time for feminist ideology because attitudes towards women are changing. And she would like to believe that Miloon has been the cause of this change for its readers. "Several men too have told me of their growing fondness for the magazine, " says Bal.
Bal's life serves as an example of female independence, creativity and exceptional courage within a traditional family setup. She gave up the magazine's editorship two years ago, but continues to publish it. "My own experiences as the editor of Stree changed me as a person. Miloon helped me reach out to the womenfolk. Equality is the basis of feminism. Ongoing dialogue is a must, " she says.
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