Manushi—A Journal about Women and Society was founded in 1978 and managed by a non-profit organisation called Manushi Trust. Even though the most visible activity of the Trust is the publication of the journal Manushi, the organization has been involved in a whole range of activities from its very inception. In 1991, a distinct forum called Manushi Sangathan was created for the active interventions as well as for providing a platform for organising citizens for democratic reforms. In 2007, we were compelled to temporarily suspend the Journal due to an unprecedented crisis as many of us faced a series of violent attacks in 2006 on account of our policy reform work for street vendors. (An account of this is available at www.manushi.in).
Recently we started a web edition of Manushi Journal in the hope that it will help us raise the required resources to restart the Hindi and English editions of Manushi.
One of Manushi’s consistent endeavours has been to bridge the divide between research and activism. We believe research becomes sterile if it does not have a vibrant connection with people’s lives and concerns. Likewise, if activism is based on insufficient grasp of ground level reality that includes appreciation of the social, historical processes that shape people’s values and behaviour, activism too often proves counterproductive, no matter how well meaning the intent.
Manushi has, therefore, endeavoured to promote informed activism through research-based writing and critiques on various issues in a manner that integrates women’s rights and concerns in each and every aspect of our national life and has steadfastly avoided the zenana dabba approach to women’s issues. Its reach goes beyond the regular NGO or academic circuits and its readership cuts across political and ideological divides because it is respected for its culturally sensitive approach to issues of social, political and economic reforms.
Who Reads Manushi?
Manushi is read by activists, scholars, academics, journalists, professionals, housewives, policy makers, NRIs and a whole range of concerned citizens who look for fresh insights and solution oriented approaches on a range of social, cultural and political issues. In the process, Manushi has played a vital catalytic role for the emergence of a large range of new women’s organisations and is an important influence on the agendas of various social movements.
The print edition of Manushi survived 28 years as an independent voice without any external sources of funding. It is among the few reader-supported magazines in the world. We took no grants, no advertisements and relied solely on subscriptions and individual donations for survival. And yet the Journal not only became self-supporting from its inception, but also manages to raise resources for several other activities of Manushi Trust and Manushi Sangathan. The enduring quality of the writing published in Manushi can be gauged by the fact that:
• Leading international publishers have brought out anthologies of Manushi articles. These include: In Search of Answers by Zed Books London, 1984, Religion at the Service of Nationalism by Oxford University Press,1998, Off the Beaten Track: Essays on Gender Issues, Oxford University Press,1999, Deepening Democracy: Challenges of Globalisation and Governance in India, Oxford University Press, 2005, Zealous Reformers, Deadly Laws Oxford University Press 2008, The Importance of Being Sita—A collection of essays from Manushi on Ramayana’s heroine Sita being published by Sage, Rashtriyata ki Chakri Mein Dharm (Hindi), Vani Prakashan, 2005, The Dilemma and Other Stories, 1997 by Vijaydan Detha. In Search of Answers was also published in Japanese. Off the Beaten Track has been published in Telugu, edited by Dr. Nagaraj. Manushi articles and books are used as part of their teaching curriculum by several universities and colleges in the country and abroad.
• This is one of the few magazines found in the villages of India, in the libraries of a range of social activists as well as in prestigious academic centres in India and abroad. Activists often use articles of Manushi for initiating discussions with new perspectives on important issues in their respective areas of involvement. Consequently, Manushi’s interventions have influenced and changed the perception and approach of numerous activists, organisations and scholars on many important issues – such as dowry, domestic violence, inheritance rights for women, personal laws of minority communities, reservations for women, economic reform issues as well as ways of creative dealing with our cultural and religious heritage.
• Even a casual audit of women’s studies in India would demonstrate major paradigm shifts in women’s studies, which have been influenced by Manushi writing. The frequency with which scholars plagiarise from Manushi (often without acknowledgement) is in itself proof of its influence on women’s studies.
• Old issues of Manushi are still in demand. We are selling them in bound volumes as well as on CDs. Many had to be reprinted. Despite being a small journal, we accept only those pieces of writing, which have not been published before, and have steadfastly refused to publish materials already published elsewhere. However, articles published in Manushi are often reprinted in mainstream newspapers and magazines, testifying to the fact that we are able to get a good deal of high quality writing even though we paid nothing to our authors for years.
• Numerous articles of Manushi have been translated into regional languages and published in major regional papers and magazines as well as in sections of alternative media.
• Manushi has been privileged to get voluntary work of a very high quality from a whole range of people, who have contributed their diverse skills without expecting anything in return. These include editorial work, legal aid work, website development and management, advocacy and organisational work.
• We have an international editorial board of people excelling in their diverse fields. Those who contributed articles for Manushi did so without expecting to be paid for their writing. This included internationally acclaimed scholars.
• We have had a continuous stream of volunteers from within India and abroad, including young NRIs. They have come to work with Manushi at their own expense for varied lengths of time without expecting even a token honorarium.
• Manushi subscribers have run outreach and fund-raising campaigns and helped it reach far and wide – both within the country and abroad – all through voluntary work. In England, the US, Germany, Japan, Canada and Australia, Manushi subscribers have set up systems for collecting subscriptions in their respective countries at their own personal cost.
However, since we adopted a very restrictive policy of neither accepting commercial ads nor grants, it has meant working with a shoestring budget. Therefore, we have had to rely mainly on unpaid voluntary labour rather than paid professional staff. This has meant:
• We could not afford commercial distribution. Hence the Journal could not reach out to many potential readers. We also did not have the required resources to run our own outreach campaigns.
• We could not invest adequate resources into research and investigations. All those who undertook investigations and research did so at their own cost, or at best Manushi Trust covered the barest of bare transport costs. For this reason, some of the important research projects could not be taken to their logical conclusion. That is why we now wish to set up a full fledged Centre for Research and Advocacy to give more depth and range to issues covered by the Journal as well as to lend support to the organisational work undertaken by Manushi Sangathan.
• We could not increase the frequency of the Journal from a bi-monthly to a monthly.
Need to Revive and Re-position the Journal Manushi
We feel it is time not just to revive the print edition of the Journal but also to reposition it and transform it into an enduring institution that can survive its founders. This requires the following:
• A larger range of contributors through systematic networking and outreach.
• Resources to commission special studies and reports.
• Required staff to keep track of the latest scholarship and developments in various fields. Increase its outreach substantially and diversify its readership profile as well as that of its contributors.
• More vigorous in carrying in-depth and realistic accounts of various movements for change, as well as news of those NGOs and civil society organisations that are doing sustained meaningful work, and have a solid track record.
• Paying close attention to civil society’s own institutions, including several caste and community based organisations doing valuable work for social reform.
• Produce several more volumes of essays from back issues of Manushi for which there is an active demand from mainstream publishers.