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Dalit in Media
Indian media wants Dalit news but not Dalit reporters
Caste privilege and domination in newsrooms must end.
Every effort was made last summer to keep the diversity project at the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) a secret. But word had somehow gotten out a few days after classes started that some students had got special caste-based scholarships to study at the premier journalism school in Chennai where tuition and boarding are far from inexpensive.
Many upper-caste students from middle-class backgrounds in the 2016-17 cohort were outraged. They started a whisper campaign against the project and called it "reverse casteism". As word spread, upper-caste middle-class alumni joined the hissing chorus accusing the institute's founders of being "fake communists" on a project to "inject Marxism, practise casteism and charge a bomb" from students.
The slightly more progressive among them said they didn't have a problem with caste-based scholarships but also wanted institutional support for the economically weak or in other words poor, upper-caste aspirants.
India's Dalit Revolution - 101 East
The thing about ACJ and every other private English-medium premier journalism institute in the country is that students from the so-called upper-castes form a crushing majority in the classroom and, as a consequence, in the influential alumni network.
Rich/poor, rural/urban, linguistically diverse, Hindu, Muslim, Christian and all shades of brown; they appear incredibly diverse to those suffering from a type of blindness that is common in the subcontinent. But to the discerning eye, they are all depressingly similar.
Like any other premier institution in India - academic, legislative, judicial, bureaucratic, or journalistic - ACJ can be a very alien place if you are from the "other" social groups.
Of the 190 Indians who joined ACJ last June, the management could identify only six Dalits and one Adivasi. The rest - irrespective of their religion, the languages they spoke or whether they ate beef - were Savarnas, the so-called touchable castes. As was the case every year, the largest group was Bengali Savarnas, followed by Hindi Savarnas, followed by Malayalee Savarnas. And like every year, of these "touchables", a majority were Brahmins.
There are still more openly queer people in English journalism than people who admit to being Dalit. Indian journalism is so mind-numbingly upper-caste that the mere act of "coming out" by journalist Yashica Dutt was celebrated as a milestone in the quest for caste diversity.
The predominance of the Brahmin in the profession is as old as English journalism in this country. But what's truly distressing is that more than 200 years on, the modern journalism classroom is almost a replica of the typical Indian English newsroom.
It's dangerous to introduce Dalits and Adivasis into a space like this where they are heavily outnumbered, bitterly resented as "freeloaders" and able to walk with pride only by concealing their true identity. Dalit and Adivasi activists and student leaders have discouraged students from applying for the ACJ scholarship and pushed them towards careers in academia and the civil services. Those sectors are also not free of casteism, but at least there's some assurance they won't be fired because somebody didn't like the stock they came from.
The four fully funded seats that ACJ has been offering students from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) for the last 10 years have mostly gone unclaimed. There weren't enough applicants and, more tragically, those that applied couldn't defeat the more privileged contestants in the entrance exam.
Then one day six Dalits and one Adivasi student knocked on the doors of the institute last summer - three were girls, and two of the boys were from the extremely marginalised Madiga caste. Only one among them was from a well-off family and able to pay the school fee. Among the others, three were children of daily wage labourers, one girl's father was a farmer and mother a schoolteacher, and two were from single-income families where the father held a low-income job.
All of them competed against, and beat, aspirants who had generations of privilege behind them.
ACJ and the South Asia Foundation (SAF) shouldered close to 2,000,000 rupees ($30,800) of the cost of tuition and boarding for the six students. When that fell short, a funding call went out to a select group of senior journalists working in English-language media who could be trusted to support affirmative action. They made the deficit vanish in just over a week. There was still enough left to sponsor the students for additional English coaching at the British Council in Chennai.
Al Jazeera World - Dalit Muslims of India
But the donations kept pouring in, and now, at the end of the course, each of the six students also has a laptop, camera and voice recorder.
The group of senior journalists are now planning to make it an annual programme, expand it to include other journalism schools and call a round table meeting of Indian editors to make them commit to diversity.
Meanwhile, as they were graduating, each of the SC/ST students told me that somebody had come up to them asking if they knew who "those" students were. "My own roommate started telling me that he wanted to find out who had got the scholarships. He wanted to find out if they were truly deserving," one of the Dalit students told me and laughed, "His only problem was he couldn't make out who was Dalit or Adivasi by looking at them."
It is truly a great mercy that some Brahmins can be the colour of ebony and some Dalits can be lighter than peaches. Every person who got the scholarship in the last 10 years, despite being as good as everybody else, has had to play this sad game of hide and seek. As they do every year, management stepped in and disciplined the wannabe caste vigilantes before they could find other means to sniff out the group of six.
After searching the country for more than 10 years, I have been able to find eight Dalit journalists in the English media. Only two of them have risked "coming out".
There are still more openly queer people in English journalism than people who admit to being Dalit. Indian journalism is so mind-numbingly upper-caste that the mere act of "coming out" by journalist Yashica Dutt was celebrated as a milestone in the quest for caste diversity.
It's not like a newsroom is a village where everybody knows whose daughter or son you are and where you live. It's simply easier for Dalits to avoid calling out newsroom rock stars for their frat-boy privilege and melt into the crowd where everybody assumes you are Bengali gentry when you say you are from Bengal.
After searching the country for more than 10 years, I have been able to find eight Dalit journalists in the English media. Only two of them have risked "coming out".
About six years ago, when one of them, after a lot of hesitation, revealed his caste to a group of Left-oriented Brahmin colleagues he was close to, one of them said, "What is Dalit about you? Why should you claim that identity?"
He was too shocked to reply that day but waits to this day to go back and tell her, "I am not Dalit enough for you because I speak good English, dress fashionably, hang out with the hippest crowd in town. Would I be satisfactorily Dalit if I was collecting the garbage outside your door, skinning your dead cow or if the women in my family were Devadasis and rape victims?"
Of the eight I found, only four are still in journalism.
The Brahmin newsroom
Ten years ago, English newspaper editors were still telling reporters that there was no readership for stories of atrocities on Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims. Today, they are paying airfares and booking taxis for reporters willing to travel to remote villages and report the latest atrocity down to its last emotional detail.
Part of the reason for this uncharacteristic interest in the outcasts is that, in this last decade, so-called alternate outlets run by editors from the Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi, Muslim, Kashmiri and North Eastern communities have attracted online audiences large enough to force a course correction on the so-called mainstream English media.
Thanks to force-multipliers like Facebook and Twitter, websites that would earlier get dismissed as fringe are now in the middle of the wolfpack that's chasing breaking news: Dalit Camera, Round Table India, Velivada, Adivasi Resurgence, Sahil Online, Milli Gazette, Kashmir Reader, Raiot and Thumb Print are just a few examples.
More than 90 percent of the students had been placed in a newsroom before the ACJ convocation last May, including those who had a problem with the SC/ST scholarship. In the coming days, they will do everything to impress their new editors, maybe even write a bleeding-heart story on the latest Dalit atrocity.
As for the seven SC/STstudents, one wasn't impressed with journalism at the end of the course and dropped out of placements to prepare for the civil services. Four have been offered jobs by some of the best news corporations in the country. The other two have turned down offers and are waiting for something better to come up. All of them made a pact to reveal their caste identities only after they make a name for themselves in the profession.
It is sad that the six Dalit students should aspire to be so heroic in a profession where most jobs still go to those with connections.
There isn't a shortage of Brahmins from poor families making it big in journalism. I've lost count of how many times a successful Brahmin journalist complained that if it weren't for SC/ST reservations, they would have become scientists or officers in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS - the cream of the Indian bureaucracy).
Children of Brahmin IAS officers get hired in newsrooms even when they say during their interview that working on the editing desk is just a stop-gap to help them brush up on their general knowledge because they want to be bureaucrats like their parents.
This is not the only newspaper that's hired generations of mostly men from the same Brahmin family. There are many examples of Brahmin reporters posted in the same district or city where their ascendants were also reporters for the same publication. A legacy newspaper in the South extended a Brahmin reporter's probation four times when most reporters are fired at strike two. Could the fact that his father and grandfather were also reporters at the same newspaper have something to do with it?
The story about a third-generation reporter posted in a small temple town, for example, came to me from the man himself. He took pride in keeping up an ancestral tradition and bragged that his family's influence went all the way to Delhi. "If you want special darshan or prayer service, just call me," he said and shared the most incredible story about the newspaper's owners, "Whenever they would come for a pilgrimage, they would stay at my house. They are very pure people and don't like eating outside (for you never know what hands touched the food)."
Nobody is quite sure why so many Brahmins are hired as reporters.
It is because of white, male, American journalists that the world knows about Malcolm X and Rosa Parks
It is not like Dalits and Adivasis are unable to break into English journalism because they can't speak English or because they make bad journalists. Any mainstream news outlet in the country can offer proof that there is no shortage of bad journalists in India. An audit of the raw copies filed by reporters of English newspapers should bear out the fact that most reporters can't string together a decent sentence in English.
If that sounds like an exaggeration, watch them on live TV news or follow them on social media where there is no sub-editor to refashion their dispatches into English.
It may seem shocking at first that merit would be so thoroughly ignored in Indian newsrooms which have a pronounced anti-reservation tilt. But this sits in perfect harmony with an economy where inheritance is still the main source of capital and conflict of interest is a socioeconomic opportunity, the kind that turns clients into family and family into clients.
We live in a country where it isn’t seen as a problem when a Reddy judge acquits Reddy men who openly butchered Dalits, but it’s a major scandal and a contempt of court when a Dalit judge complains that upper-caste judges are discriminating against him. It's uncomfortable to allow a Muslim reporter to cover the national security beat but it's award-winning journalism when a Brahmin reporter promotes a dying Brahmin art form and refers respectfully to the Brahmin artiste preserving it as "doyen" and "maestro".
The white male American journalism
"It is because of white, male, American journalists that the world knows about Malcolm X and Rosa Parks," a white man shouted at me from the audience in June 2011 when I was part of a panel discussing newsroom diversity at an event hosted by a think-tank in Boston. The white man was angry because I had called that year's Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference - where 1,000 US investigative journalists had gathered the previous week - an endless parade of white men.
The angry white man, who later introduced himself as a journalist, made one wonder how much tougher it must be for African Americans to slip into US newsrooms without being noticed.
But that's the thing about Americans, they are not just more prosperous but also more socially and culturally advanced than the average Indian.
It's not in the least because they abolished slavery before we abolished untouchability or because they elected a black president as we still wait for a Dalit, Adivasi or Muslim prime minister. Attacks on racial minorities, particularly blacks, is still a shocking and consistent feature of life there, and yes, Donald Trump is now president.
But it is unthinkable that a black man will be prevented from entering a public space in the US while the newspapers remain silent. In India, even elected representatives and celebrities cannot enter certain temples if they are not from the touchable castes. You can't buy tea or a haircut in most villages around Bangalore if you are a Dalit, but you wouldn't know this reality because the English newspaper you read thinks you're not interested. Indian media is not interested in the daily and boring aspects of caste such as social exclusion and segregation.
Like many things, American journalism is also more evolved than ours. Back in 1978, the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) passed a historic resolution calling for greater inclusion of minorities in American newsrooms. Since then, the ASNE maintains a strict audit of the diversity ratios, and provides support and training assistance to aspiring journalists from oppressed communities.
Their 2016 survey showed that 13 percent of newsroom leaders and 17 percent of the total editorial team (in 737 organisations surveyed) were from minorities. When they started more than three decades ago, less than 4 percent of American journalists were from minority communities.
The world needs to know what it looks like through an untouchable's eye.
In India, where most editors don't even acknowledge that there is a problem, suggesting a diversity survey of newsrooms evokes instant allegations of reverse casteism or that other upper-caste harangue about the death of merit.
American journalism has another glorious tradition - the black press. News organisations of, by and for African Americans. Their might was on full display during the Black Lives Matter agitations.
The first issue of the first black-owned and published newspaper, Freedom's Journal, hangs on a prominent wall at the Newseum in Washington, DC. Its editors, Samuel Cornish and John Russworm, put out a stirring declaration in their first issue on March 16, 1827:
"Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the publick been deceived by misrepresentations in things which concern us dearly…We wish to plead our own cause."
I wish I had found these lines to throw at the white man in Boston who, as late as 2011, saw nothing wrong with the world learning about Malcolm X and Rosa Parks through the eyes of white male journalists.
Through an untouchable's eye
It is nobody's allegation that all white journalists are racist or that all Brahmin journalists are casteist. There can be no doubt that some of the finest commentaries, reportage and scholarship on the Indian caste system have been produced by Brahmin journalists and intellectuals. But for those who defend the systematic social exclusion in India's newsrooms by pointing to upper-caste journalists who did a sterling job on caste, I now have an indigenously developed repartee, "The world needs to know what it looks like through an untouchable's eye."
It's a spin on the catchphrase coined by the founders of Dalit Camera, "Dalit Camera: Through Untouchable Eyes".
It is not the hope of those who supported ACJ's diversity project that all the Dalits and Adivasis benefitting from it will make reporting on caste, communalism and poverty the focus of their careers.
The hope is that they too will have a share in the power, prestige and international reach that comes with being an English journalist in India.
Behind them are families and entire communities hoping their children too will one day cover the prime minister's press conference, fly out with the Indian cricket team, interview Shahrukh Khan in his house, test drive the latest Mercedes, go on foreign junkets, bring home expensive gifts, or play their contacts to bag awards and fat fellowships.
The seven, who shall not be named, need only to mark their presence where they are not welcome without the burden of goodness or piety. It is simply unfair for all bad English reporters to be Brahmin or Savarna.
Sudipto Mondal in an investigative journalist who reports mostly from South India on caste, communalism and corruption. He is writing a book on the death of the Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula and the 25-year history of the organisation to which he belonged, the Ambedkar Students' Association (ASA).
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
Backstory: The Dalit Public and the Media
A fortnightly column from The Wire’s public editor.
Members of Dalit community raise slogans during Bharat Bandh against the alleged dilution of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Act, in New Delhi. Credit: PTI
Senior Supreme Court attorney Indira Jaising recently tweeted that the upper caste composition of the judiciary has resulted in turning the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 from protecting SCs/STs to protecting the upper castes. She got badly trolled for this bit of plain speaking, and the Bar Council of India was disturbed enough by it to issue a press release urging her to withdraw her observation.
Not one of her critics, however, could counter her argument about the representation bias within Indian courts, and we know well that this is also the case when it comes to mainstream media. The argument is often made that equality of representation does not really matter because true professionals, whether they be judges or journalists, bring fair play and a sense of balance to their professional responsibilities, giving the interests of both sides in a particular case equal play. But even a cursory look at the respective records of the two sectors would indicate that this is far from the case, that socialisation and personal experience are decisive factors whether it comes to framing a judicial verdict or a journalistic report.
Why did it take so long for racism to be confronted in supposedly “liberal” US? Because, as Martin Luther King – whose 50th death anniversary is now being observed – wrote in his famous letter from Birmingham jail, “it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say ‘wait’.” The commentary ‘SC/ST Act: Court Ruling Will Have Chilling Effect on Reporting Crimes Against Dalits’ (March 28) got it right when it noted that “TV anchors sitting in Delhi and Mumbai may not appreciate the gravity of untouchability as Dalits have almost no representation in print or electronic media, which are fully under the control of upper castes.”
How many of us inhabiting the upper-class, largely upper-caste urban milieu have even a simple understanding of the crimes that have been routinely perpetrated against Dalits over the millennia? I count myself as among those who are more aware of such realities than many, but here’s the point: I hadn’t realised that half the crimes so methodically set down in the Prevention of Atrocities Act, have kept taking place in this country of ours long after independence. All that the writer of the piece ‘The Dark Realities of the SC/ST Atrocities Act: An Ethnographic Reading’ (April 4), a trained sociologist, did was to list the various crimes cited under this law, and it made for arresting reading. As she put it, “That such specific offences have been included and made punishable under this Act, can only mean that they were commonly perpetrated, and it was anticipated that they may continue against the concerned people.”
Such an law may never have made it to the statute books if it were not for “a long-term process of democratisation leading to Dalit assertion, rise of movements and formation of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 1985 by Kanshi Ram, and the upsurge from below in many other states in the Hindi heartland”, as the piece ‘The BJP Is Losing the Support of Dalits in the Hindi Heartland’ (April 4), reminds us. So when the protections offered by an umbrella legislation of this kind are sought to be read down by the apex court, it is bound to fan social anxieties on a mass scale (‘Bharat Bandh: Clashes Reported Across States; Four Dead in MP’, April 2).
The country failed to anticipate the scale of the backlash to this verdict. But the parallel failure of mainstream media, despite ostensibly having an ear closer to the ground, to gauge the anger in the community was yet another reflection of how distanced they were from the Dalit public. Equally apparent was the unthinkingly biased nature of the coverage, particularly television reportage, as the bandh unfolded. We saw this misreading of the situation during the bandh over the Bhima Koregaon violence in January, and we saw it again this time.
Violence during collective action like a ‘Bharat bandh’, cannot be condoned, and many Dalit leaders publicly condemned the killings that marked the April 10 mobilisation, even suggesting that criminalised gangs had permeated the ranks of the protestors possibly with a view to discredit their action. That may, or may not, have been the case, but what was disturbingly clear was the manner in which the violence, even that perpetrated by upper caste groups who had counter-mobilised in large numbers, was passed off as violence perpetrated by Dalits.
The incident involving the smartly coiffured Gwalior resident Raja Chauhan, publicly brandishing and using his gun at fleeing protestors in order to kill them in cold blood, was a case in point. A live streaming video chillingly revealed the impunity with which he did this, even as the voiceover talked about Dalit violence. It was only much later that his identity as a Bharatiya Janata Party worker was established, and although he was booked by the police he managed to evade arrest for a long time thereafter. There were also, according to the police, gun wielders among Dalit protestors – after all gun possession in the Gwalior-Chambal region, long known as India premier dacoit territory is possibly among the highest in the country. What would have made an important media story in the context of the Bharat Bandh is the caste-composition of licensed gun holders in states like Madhya Pradesh – one that would have needed some application of mind, an approach free of caste bias and an ability to ask the right questions.
One of the structural reasons for biased reportage is related to the fact that in situations of caste and communal violence, it is the local police that remains the main if not sole source of media information, and here we have to contend with an institution strongly marked by attitudes of communalism and caste-centric prejudices and which has conformed to the will of the political and socio-economic status quo since the year dot. It is only when reporters are prepared to question the police version of developments is there a fighting chance of a narrative emerging that is closer to the truth. Take that tragic story from Gujarat village of Umrala, ‘Family Alleges Dalit Boy Was Killed for Riding Horse, Police Doesn’t Buy it’ (April 4). The local police all but exonerated the local upper castes from playing any role in this murder, neatly transferring the blame on to the dead youth himself by claiming that it was his antics before schoolgirls that precipitated a scuffle which led to his death.
But things may just be changing. What is important to register here is that this Dalit boy, Pradip Kalubhai Rathod, did get to ride Raju, his horse, and that Raju ultimately led his funeral procession. This was a clear demonstration of community assertion in the face of overweening power. The Dalit in India is changing, they are acquiring what social scientist Badri Narayan terms as “Dalit publicness”. If the media fails to understand this, it will be their loss.
How is plagiarism to be understood? A recent mail from Aditi Surie wished to draw my attention to a piece in The Wire, ‘Ola, Uber and the Precarious Future of Blue Collar Platform Workers’ (March 26, 2018), which the writer claimed had plagiarised ideas from a 2016 piece she had written for the Economic and Political Weekly, ‘Tech in Work Organising Informal Work in India’. Surie then goes on to cite two passages to illustrate her point:
When we got back to the writer of The Wire article, she was unequivocal that she had not drawn from the EPW piece, and in fact had not read it until after her own piece had been published. She stated that although she understood the sentiments of someone what has done extensive research on the subject, the conclusion she had reached – she argued – was not a difficult one to arrive at “if anyone has been following recent trends on the a) platform economy, with the Uber Ola strikes etc; b) overall shifts in the Indian economy with demonetisation, GST, focus on entrepreneurship etc; c) and has some common sense.” She then went on to cite the sources she had relied on, which included conversations with reputed economists.
Another expert, familiar with the topic, while weighing in on the issue, pointed out that the argument made in The Wire piece, about how the platform economy is “disrupting structures of formal and informal work in India, but that it doesn’t necessarily reflect an improvement in employment conditions as workers continue to lack access to social protection/welfare , and so work continues to be precarious” is a general one, and has been made by several academics and activists, both at the global and national levels.
In many ways, scrutiny of an emerging phenomenon like the platform economy inevitably draws on a wide range of new scholarship. While careful attribution of previous work is a non-negotiable – it is the mark of good scholarship, as indeed journalism – accusations of plagiarism perhaps need to be tempered by the fact that sources of ideas in such instances could be both varied and interlinked.
To put on record, the editorial desk at The Wire assures me that they take the charge of plagiarism seriously, using online tools to monitor text and writing back to authors should problems arise. Ideally, our contributors understand that it is self-regulation and self-checks that work best when it come to addressing the unacceptable practice of plagiarism.
Pravir Pandey, vice-chairman, IWAI & Project Director (Jal Marg Vikas Project), Inland Waterways Authority of India, Ministry of Shipping, Govt. of India, has a bone to pick with the piece, ‘Why is Narendra Modi Allowing Nitin Gadkari to Destroy the Ganga’ (March 22). He argue that the Rs 5,369 Crore Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP) on National Waterway (NW) -1 (Varanasi to Haldia) is a wholly inclusive, economic and environment friendly game changer intervention on the Ganga. Along with giving a fillip to trade and commerce, he believes JMVP will help rejuvenate the river and not ‘ruin’ it, as portrayed by the writer of the piece. He adds that it is “sad to see a news organization run by such veterans like you… are not sticking to the basic tenets of journalism which is to carry both sides of the story”. He goes on to say, “One is surprised to see how the article managed to pass through the stages of editing by the desk without taking into account the versions of Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), resulting in the write up turning out to be a story based on half-baked information and hearsays.”
JMVP, could in fact be seen as an “an effort towards rejuvenating an already dying and polluted river. The huge silt loads have turned to be disastrous during floods as constantly, the ‘room for the river’ is depleting each year due to heavy siltation.”
He then appends a point by point rebuttal that is too lengthy to carry here. In conclusion, however, he observes, “Inland Waterway Transport (IWT) is the most environment-friendly mode of transport, compared to the other surface based modes of transport. It is a non-water consumptive transportation with minimal resource depletion. It will facilitate reduction of pressure on Railway network and National Highways, relieving congestion, reduced emissions from vehicles and railway engines on non-electrified routes, thereby reducing carbon emission and project footprint. Use of modern inland water vessels, with natural gas (LNG/CNG) as fuel will reduce emission of SOx (50%), NOx (70%), Particulate Matter (95%) and CO2 (25%). Hence, it will have negligible impact on ambient air quality. LNG/CNG engines on inland vessels have lower noise level than diesel engines. This has less impact on ambient noise level. Due to minimum requirement of land acquisition, there will be insignificant impact on ecology & biodiversity, agricultural activities as well as on the livelihood of the people.
Attention was also drawn towards the fact that Inland Water Transport (IWT) will not only augment the overall transport capacity of the country, but will also help correct the transport modal mix that impose huge logistics costs on the Indian economy. The costs of logistics in India, at 15 % of GDP, are about twice those in the United States.
Development of National Waterway-1, in short, would result in an environment friendly, fuel efficient and cost-effective alternative mode of transportation, especially for bulk goods, hazardous goods and over dimensional cargo. NW-1, along with proposed Eastern Dedicated Freight Corridor and National Highway-2, constitute the Eastern Transport Corridor of India connecting the National Capital Region (NCR) with the eastern and north-eastern states and will function as a link to Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal and other east and south-east Asian countries through the Kolkata Port and Indo- Bangladesh Protocol Route.
It is empirically impossible, Pandey concludes, not to be convinced that IWT is the most environment friendly, cost effective and sustainable mode of transport and it is upon those who don’t buy this fact, to enlighten us how any other mode is better.
Vaishali Diwakar from Pune, who has been an appreciative reader of The Wire for a while now, finds some of its content “very important for my teaching sociology, to generate debates in classrooms and more importantly for myself to introspect and reflect on my own views and confusions…” Pune, where she is situated currently, “has a very vibrant culture of activism. Some of the issues which The Wire is highlighting are relevant at the regional level too but because of language issues they don’t reach the people interested in them.”
The Wire was the first with the story on Arun Jaitley’s health (‘Kidney Transplant Likely for Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’, April 3). A modicum of courage helped in breaking this authentic piece of news a whole day earlier. As its writer tweeted the day after, “And here @arunjaitley confirms the story I broke in @thewire_in last night. Now bravely followed by up the rest of the media”. Some readers raised the question as to whether such personal information could be said to constitute “news”. One comment went: “An odd story to break. Perhaps it may have been more decorous to wait for an official communiqué. There is an issue of privacy, to which public figures are also entitled.” But I would go with what another respondent observed: “Any work one may be doing, requires the minimum physical and mental qualifications. A public servant has a duty to disclose his general health condition to the public unlike a private person.”
Who are some leading Dalit voices today?
This question previously had details. They are now in a comment.
Some Dalits journalists who are raising voices on social & media platform are here -
Santosh Valmiki- Newsreader onDoordarshanand Former principal correspondent of Lucknow bureau ofHindustan.He was born inBalmiki(Bhangi)caste,his father was a driver & mother was a manual scavenger.They were very poor & as a kid he always accompanied his mother in cleaning toilets.He also used to sell newspaper in front of Prasar Bharti while studying in Christian College(Lucknow).Her mother sold everything for his study in IIMC(New Delhi) for PGDHJ.Inspite of very much talent he was ignored and been subject of dicrimination in promotions.
Mallepally Laxmaiah- A noted senior Telugu journalist & political analyst.He was born inMadiga(Chamar)caste in Telangana.He worked with ‘Vaartha’ and ‘Andhra Jyothi' newspaper before quitting in 2009 to participate in Telangana Movement and also was one of the creators of HMTV channel (Telugu). He has been an adviser to theTelangana Rashtra Samithisince its inception. He is also the Co-Chairman of the Joint Action Committee on Telangana which is spearheading the non-political movement. He is also Director of Center for Dalit Studies and Special Officer for Buddhavanam project at Nagarjunasagar(Nalgonda).
Satyendra Murli- Former journalist associated withDoordarshan. Murli popularly known as an Ambedkarite Journalist and have controversial career.He had been participated social and political movement, based onPhule-Ambedkarideology.He was born inJatav(Chamar)caste at Birana(Rajasthan).He also worked as Correpondent ofHT Media,Dalit Dastak& Media Co-Ordinator ofInstitute of Social Research & Reconstruction.He did BA in Public Administration,Geography & Hindi Literature from University of Rajasthan(Jaipur),MJMC from Centre for Mass Comm.(Jaipur) and P.G.Diploma in Hindi Journalism from IIMC(New Delhi) & later enrolled as a researcher. In 2016 he alleged thatNarendra Modimisled the citizens of the country by recording the announcement and took a unilateral decision to demonetise notes, which made up over 85 per cent in circulation.He has filed an RTI requesting this information be made public and this led to his expulsion from D.D.News.
Ved Prakash- Assistant Producer in Total TV.Born inPasicaste of Bihar to a family of toddy tappers.He did M. Com and Masters in Mass Communication from Nalanda Open University.Prior to that he was a teacher in his village which resented upper castes that their children had a Dalit teacher and he has been subject of defamation as a Dalit teacher due to his caste.While living in Delhi he observed the absence of Dalits in media and understood the need of theirpresence.So,he chose to work in the field of journalism.
Vipashana Kamble- Born in Maharashtra.She is from Mahar caste & her father was an industrial judge.She didB.Scfrom Fergusson College(Pune) and P.G.Diploma in English Journalism from IIMC(New Delhi).She started her career as copy editor in IANS then as Correspondent cum Copy Editor in Exchange4media both social platforms.She entered in mainstream english journalism through 'The Pioneer' as Senior Copy Editor.Later ,she joined The Times Of India as Corrspondent cum Senior Copy Editor & currently is a Chief Copy Editor.
Ashok Das- Founder & Chief Editor of Dalit Dastak,a weekly magazine andDalitmat.com. Das was born inChamarcaste at Gopalganj(Bihar).He did B.A in Pol. Science from Gopalganj College and P.G.D.H.J from IIMC(New Delhi).He started his career as a reporter in 'Lokmat' and then in 'Amar Ujala' and here he first time experienced actual discrimination while living with colleagues and during promotion.He faced much casteism there though his roommate & colleague ,an upper caste himself, also has to suffer for supporting him,so he left Amar Ujala.Then he organised people, visited different universities & did a signature campaign to protest against beating of Bihari & U.Pites by Raj Thackeray's goons.He got associated with ‘Bhadas4media.com’who covered his campaign and through which he got idea to start 'Dalitmat.com' .Then later joined ‘National Dastak'but after seeing need to work seperately and in his own way about Dalit issues he started a magazine 'Dalit Dastak'.
Animesh Biswas- Former sports jounalist turned P.R.Manager.He was born inNamashudracaste at Kolkata(W.B).Worked as Sub-editor of Dailypioneer & The Pioneer.He was former Sports Staff Writer for HT Next,Subject Matter Expert of Sports forNgen Media(J.V of NDTV-Genpact),Team Manager & Media Co-ordinator of Hindustan Football Club and Assistant Manager of Press Operarions for I&B Dept.(GoI) during 2008 Commonwealth Games.He later left media due to lower pay & joined Concept P.R & currently working with AdFactors P.R(New Delhi).
D Karthikeyan- Principal Correspondent of The Hindu (Madurai bureau).Born inDevendrakula Vellalar(Pallar)caste at Kanyakumari toDr. P.Damodarana retiredH.O.D of History Dept.,Govt. Arts College(Coimbatore) who was also an English writer,greatly known for books written by him -Beacon Light of Dravidians - A Torch bearer of Tamils,Sophoclean plays -A Study,Makers of Modern India,etc.He did B.B.A & Master of Business Economics [M.B.E] from PSG Arts & Science College(Coimbatore),M.Phil from Centre for Studies in Social Sciences(Calcutta) and P.G. Diploma in English Journalism from Asian School of Journalism(Chennai).Later he got unable to secure a Fellowship for Ph.D from London School of Economics(London) he entered journalism.Karthikeyan joined The Hindu and after many years service he resigned to do his Ph.D from University of Edinburgh(U.K).But he continues to write articles as freelancer for The Hindu,Economic and Political Weekly,The Wire,etc.
The death of a Dalit journalist and the question of casteism in the Indian media
In 1996, when B K Uniyal went through the names of 700 accredited journalists in Delhi, he couldn’t identify a single Dalit among them. He realized that not once in his 30 years in the profession had he met a Dalit journalist. In 2013, Ajaz Ashraf found 21 across the country. On April 12, 2015, that tiny number shrunk even further with the death of Koppula Nagaraju, a reporter with the New Indian Express Hyderabad, triggering protests and condemnation.
Nagaraju (34) died of cancer, but it wasn’t just the disease which made his death painful. His friends allege that he was discriminated against because of his caste, and that in his final days he got no support from his organization or senior editors.
Along with journalists’ associations like the Telangana Union of Working Journalists and the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ), Nagaraju’s friends have organized protests in many cities, demanding justice. At a condolence meeting in Delhi on April 23, the DUJ “resolved to fight for justice against the casteist discrimination and contractual exploitation meted out to him by his employers… (who) underpaid him, denied health benefits… Provident Fund and other monetary rights pushing him to death”. These allegations have once again brought the lack of diversity in Indian newsrooms to the fore.
Independent journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurtha, a former mentor of Nagaraju, participating at the condolence meeting organised by the Delhi Union of Journalists.
Hailing from Sarapaka village in Khammam district, Nagaraju was the first person from the Madiga community to become a journalist for an English newspaper. The youngest of five children, Nagaraju worked as a construction labourer, sold ice cream and painted sign boards to complete his schooling after his father’s death, when he was just four years old. Armed with a diploma from the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media in Bengaluru and an MA in History from the University of Hyderabad, Nagaraju landed a job with the Hyderabad bureau of The New Indian Express in April 2011.
Nagaraju was not a press conference journalist – a term which would be understood by the journalistic fraternity to mean someone who did not do stories merely to fill the pages of the newspaper. A friend and Hyderabad-based journalist Swati Vadlamudi recalls that on many days, Nagaraju would file several stories with multiple bylines. “Filing four stories with bylines in a day is not a joke,” she says, adding that he would often take a nap on a park bench or traffic island in between stories and assignments.
He covered everything from turtles to prisoners. His stories include those about prisoners turning doctors for their fellow inmates, living conditions in mental health institutions, prisoners dying due to poor medical care, tortoises turning gay, a mentally ill HIV+ child.
However, all this abruptly came to an end in October 2012 when he was forced to take leave without pay to recover from Tuberculosis. But five months later, tests revealed that he actually had lung cancer.
“Nagaraju did not die because of cancer. He died as a result of sustained and systematic casteist discrimination that pushed him into a corner, and which forced him to seek cheaper medical attention that resulted in him being misdiagnosed with TB. This caused a five-month delay in his treatment for cancer,” says his friend and former journalist Chittibabu Padavala.
A protest outside The New Indian Express office in Hyderabad organised by the Telangana Union of Working Journalists, Telangana Azad Force and other groups including Dalit organizations
A year after he joined, when he finally got his increment, he felt it was too low and raised the issue with his editor. “When he raised the issue with his Resident Editor, Nagaraju told me that he was rudely ushered out of the RE’s chamber. The RE had also announced in the office that when people ‘act smart’ their bylines should be reduced. If the newspaper conducts an inquiry into the discrimination he faced, I’m sure there will be many witnesses who will say this,” Padavala says. This was independently confirmed by colleagues of Nagaraju’s in The New Indian Express who requested anonymity.
Resident Editor of The New Indian Express in Hyderabad G S Vasu denied these allegations. “The questions are based on hearsay or information given by unidentified persons, while the facts are otherwise. I am referring your mail to our corporate HR/Legal dept for an appropriate response,” he said in an email. The News Minute has received no response since. The NIE staff across bureaus have been asked by the paper's Executive Editor to voluntarily contribute to support the family of Nagaraju.
A protest outside The Indian Express office in Hyderabad.
Whether or not Nagaraju was discriminated against, may only be revealed by an impartial inquiry conducted by an independent team, or as his friends demand, an investigation by the police invoking the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocity) Act 1989. For the few Dalits who break into the ivory tower that is the English media, these allegations echo their own experiences.
Ravi Kumar, an alumnus of the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) and also a Madiga, had applied for a position in Hyderabad at The New Indian Express. ACJ is one of the few private educational institutions which offer scholarships to SC and ST students.
Ravi says that when he went for the interview in Chennai, he was asked about his social background since his resume indicated that he studied on a scholarship. He told his interviewers that his parents were daily wage labourers. He was then offered a monthly salary of Rs 14,500, which was much lesser than most of the other candidates who were selected for the same position.
“When I asked them why, they told me it was because I studied in Telugu medium and that my writing skills were not good enough. If that was the case, I would not have cleared the exam (conducted by the newspaper) and they too said that my results were good,” Ravi says, adding that there were one or two others who had been offered the same financial package, but he does not know if they were Dalits. “I felt that I got a lower salary because of my caste,” he says. Eventually, he decided to pursue higher studies.
In his 10-year research on Indian language newspapers, academician Robin Jeffrey found that the standard response he got when he asked editors why the number of Dalit journalists in the media is disproportionately low was the same given to Ravi Kumar: lack of qualifications.
“Qualifications” is euphemism for knowledge of English. Fresh editorial recruits in most media houses today are at least graduates, although this may not hold true for stringers.
However, sub-editors in all print news media organizations concur that even their ‘qualified’ recruits file the most sub-standard copies, devoid of grammar and sometimes bordering on gibberish. Some sub-editors even have secret files of raw copies which they can laugh over on a bad day.
Two examples: “RDPR Minister Jagadish Shettar on Wednesday informed the Legislative Assembly that Rs 49.20 crore had been released to augment shortage of drinking water.”
“The incident came to light when the morning joggers noticed the lifeless corpse, who then immediately informed the police.”
(For more examples, see the PDF document at the bottom or click here)
If, as editors routinely claim, merit is the only criteria that matters when hiring a journalist, how is it that such poor copies are filed routinely?
Anybody who’s been a journalist long enough will tell you how important networks are in the profession, as they are elsewhere.
Journalism often runs in families, usually of course, being passed on from father to son, rarely to daughter. At one national English daily, the post of a district reporter in Tirupati has been passed down from father (an upper caste man) to son, and then grandson. The same newspaper also has four members of the same family working in Karnataka. There is a network ready and waiting for many people who belong to the upper castes, and hence they tend to dominate even in newsrooms. Just as men of all castes have some advantages over women of all castes, so too, do upper castes have certain advantages over people of other castes.
For the odd Dalit journalist who makes it to such a newsroom, the workplace becomes a source of anxiety that is unrelated to his (Dalit women are even fewer in number) competence as a journalist.
D Karthikeyan, formerly with The Hindu’s Madurai bureau says that casteism operates in very subtle ways in the newsroom. He had always been open about his Dalit identity and that made the workplace a daily battle zone for him.
“Everybody, from my colleagues to the office staff, knew I was a Dalit. Caste discrimination operates in multiple subtle ways. For instance, irrespective of whether a good story of mine was caste-related or not, none of my colleagues, except my chief of bureau who was a good man, ever congratulated me. They don’t recognize you,” he says.
Innuendo was a part of the work culture. “They never say anything directly. But if a Dalit politician like Mayawati or A Raja was involved in corruption, they would say that Dalits use their position for corruption. They would loudly say this in my presence,” says Karthikeyan.
At one point, Karthikeyan approached the then editor-in-chief N Ram about it, who then intervened.
A young journalist with an English newspaper who requested anonymity says that he too faces snide remarks as he covers human rights and caste issues. “Often, they tell me things like ‘Oh, you cover only such issues’,” says the reporter, the only Dalit in the newspaper in south India. “These issues are covered by the others only if it is assigned to them, or if I am not working that day. None of them ever get bylines for caste-related or human rights stories,” he says.
A few years ago, a journalist had initiated a consultation among fellow journalists to initiate an archive of the work done by Dalit journalists. While it was welcomed by many, Dalit reporters objected because not revealing their Dalit identity afforded them an anonymity with which they could freely pursue stories of all kinds without being burdened by the “Dalit” tag.
Many senior journalists – Kalpana Sharma, Sevanti Ninan, Siddharth Varadarajan, Ammu Joseph, Paranjoy Guha Thakurtha and others – have underscored the necessity of newsroom diversity and the need to include marginalized groups and minorities among editorial staff in the media.
However, Karthikeyan says even when the inclusion of Dalit journalists is spoken about, the mental image is that of a man; Dalit women are still not part of the landscape.
But while the entry of women in general in the media has been celebrated, questions raised about the inclusion of Dalits bring accusations of “casteism”. “In India, if you raise women’s issues you are feminist, but if you raise Dalit issues you become casteist. It’s like saying Nelson Mandela was racist,” says journalist Sudipto Mondal, who is with an English newspaper.
In his book India’s Newspaper Revolution, Robin Jeffrey compares the situation of Dalits in Indian journalism with that of the African Americans in the United States of America. But Dalits do not have the backing of a commercially successful trading community or a socially influential church, which the black community had to start their own newspapers.
With the slogan “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.” On the front page, Samuel E Cornish and John B Russwurm founded the first black newspaper Freedom’s Journal, 30 years before the 1857 Mutiny in India.
On finding almost no black journalists in the American press in the 1970s, the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) set itself a time-bound goal of ensuring that newspapers hired black journalists in proportion to their general population. It is a different matter that they never achieved their goal, even though there has been improvement.
Urging that the Indian media follow the example set by the ASNE, a delegation of Dalit intellectuals approached the Editors’ Guild and Press Council of India in 1996. Chandra Bhan Prasad and Sheoraj Singh Bechain had submitted a memorandum titled “End Apartheid from Indian Media: Democratise Nations Opinion”. The PCI had said that it was beyond the scope of its powers to intervene in the private companies. However, Shivnarayan Rajpurohit, who was a part of the delegation, argues that the PCI does have enough powers to make the media more socially inclusive.
According to Prasad, the memorandum was also submitted to every newspaper in Delhi. Calling the Indian media an "upper caste republic", Prasad said: “We never received an acknowledgement of the memorandum from the Editors’ Guild or the newspapers. The only exception was Chandan Mitra of The Pioneer, who gave me a column called Dalit Dairy which I wrote for 15 years. I missed only three Sundays."
By 1996, India had been independent for close to half a century, but never in that time it appears, had it occurred to anybody that Dalits (by default male) were simply missing from the journalistic fraternity. What prompted Uniyal to begin his search for a Dalit journalist was a question from the Delhi-based correspondent of The Washington Post Kenneth Cooper. “And worse still was the thought that… it had never occurred to me that there was something so seriously amiss in the profession,” Uniyal is quoted as saying in Jeffrey’s book.
Karthikeyan says that democracy did not just mean that one has the right to vote, adding that it was necessary that the democratic ethos spread to public institutions as well. “What sort of democracy is this, if such a huge population is left out of the media in the most hierarchical society in the world?” Karthikeyan says.
The debate about the inclusion of Dalits and other marginalized groups – including women of these groups – is part of the larger debate about the inclusion of these groups in other spheres of life. Over a hundred years ago Jyotirao Phule argued that the lower castes and women were both oppressed by Brahminical patriarchy.
But while a feminism that talks about 50 percent reservation in Parliament has found wide acceptance, calls to make the public sphere caste-inclusive have not.
Asked if he knew a Dalit woman journalist I could speak to, Karthikeyan said he didn’t. Perhaps it is now time to write “In search of a Dalit woman journalist”, as Uniyal titled his piece for the Pioneer when he wrote of his search for a Dalit journalist in 1996.
P.S. Meanwhile, Nagaraju’s friends and the DUJ have protested against The New Indian Express in front of its office in Delhi. The voices for “justice for Nagaraju” are growing louder.
No Country For Minorities: The Absence Of Dalit And Muslim Journalists In Indian Newsrooms
This paper was written by Junaid Dalwai, while pursuing his MA in politics from the University of Mumbai in 2016. A devoted son, brother, friend, and an individual with an indomitable spirit, Junaid reflected several of the qualities that are virtually missing today. One of them was to raise his voice against injustice despite a lot of odds. He undertook a tough path for a great cause – quality education. In the Department of Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai, he fought bravely against several problems which had and were destroying the past and future of the students as well as the ethos of the institution as a whole.
He passed away in an unfortunate spate of events on May 24 last year. I want to thank Jahid, his brother, not just for providing access, but also for the consent to put his work out in the public domain. It is based on a media-related theme. He has looked at both the American and Indian media and how diversely represented they are, in reality. It will be enlightening for a lot of readers. The paper is reproduced below.
– Akhil Oka, classmate and friend
Is the media really diverse? Does it take into account all the elements of the society and if so, to what extent? Is the media doing justice to the fourth estate of democracy? The Noble Laureate Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous “I have a dream” speech said, “I have a dream that my four children will not be judged by the colour of the skin, but by the content of their character.” The racial segregation and discrimination faced by African-Americans and Dalits and minorities in India helps us understand how diverse the society is, especially with reference to media.
As Catherine A. Luther in her book “Diversity in US Mass Media” states, “Diversity is commonly defined as being composed of differing elements or qualities.” More specifically, in the context of social groups, the concept of diversity embraces the ideas of acceptance and respect and an understanding that groups are made up of unique individuals. Further, when regarding diversity within the context of media, it is important to consider the extent to which an array of representation of individuals or social groups are being heard or reflected. Research has shown that mass media has played an important role in how individuals perceive and feel about themselves and about others.
Diversity In American Media
Diversity in American media can be understood through two aspects – firstly, the representation of the minorities – African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asians. Secondly, through the aspect of ‘ownership.’
Ownership has its own angle. The understanding of ownership in American media is quite vague. Writing in 1983, Bagdikian in his work “The Media Monopoly” argued that not only do a smaller number of owners have possession of larger and larger number of media properties, but for the first time in the history of American journalism, news and public information have been integrated formally into the highest levels of financial and non-journalistic corporate control. This is the usual tendency that America has been following for years.
He further analysed that media mergers have reduced the number of controlling corporate players from approximately 50 in 1984 to 10 in 1996. The largest merger was when AOL spent $124 billion to buy Time Warner in 2001. Today, just the six corporations control the entire American media. The six include General Electricals, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner (the largest of them all) and the CBS.
The strange thing among these corporate media houses is that none of them are owned by an African-American. Due to this, the local media, which was owned by the minorities, is becoming extinct. Lastly, Bagdikian says, “The communication cartel has exercised stunning influence over national legislation and government agencies, an influence whose scope and power would have been considered scandalous or illegal twenty years ago.”
This media merger is directly or indirectly a result of the Telecommunication Act of 1996. The act was the first significant overhaul of the American telecommunications law in more than 60 years, amending the Communications Act of 1934. The act was signed by then-President Bill Clinton. This was the first time the internet was included in the broadcasting and spectrum allotment. According to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), the goal of the law was to “let anyone enter any communications business – to let any communications business compete in any market against any other.” This deregulated the entire media market and eventually led to media concentration. All this led to the media houses turning more and more elitist.
This act eventually came under heavy criticism. Howard Zinn, the writer of the book “A People’s History of the United States”, critiqued the 1996 act, “it enabled the handful of corporations dominating the airwaves to expand their power further, mergers enabled tighter control of information.” If all this excludes ‘minority ownership,’ to what extent will diversity prevail?
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod v FCC, 1998 illustrates just how much burden the term ‘diversity’ has been asked to bear in the latter part of the 20th century in the United States. It appears to have been coined both as a permanent justification for policies seeking racial proportionality in all walks of life and as a synonym for proportional representation itself. In my view, it has been used by the commission in both ways. In sum, the court attacked the diversity rationale as a whole. It also shows the flaws of the commission.
If we consider the participation of the minorities, the figures are even more worse. According to an article in Al Jazeera by Micheal A. Deas, he states that, among the 38,000 journalists working at 1,400 newspapers, only 4,700 are minorities. That’s an average of three non-white journalists. If we look into the historical context, the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) began in 1978. The presentation of non-whites in the newsroom was 4% when they accounted for 30% of the American population. The ASNE had set certain targets for improving that percentage to 20% by 2000, but they failed. By 2011, the representation of minorities was just 13% when they constituted 36% of the American population.
The ASNE has three important features with respect to diversity:
1. Encourage and assist editors in recruiting, hiring, and managing diverse newsrooms.
2. Expand ASNE efforts to foster newsroom diversity.
3. Establish three-year benchmarks for measuring progress.
In spite of these programs, the achievements are minimal. But this is still better than Dalit representation in India, which we will look at in the second part of the paper.
According to a recent survey by ASNE, minorities filled 900 managerial jobs compared to 8000 for whites. It was striking to see then-US President Barack Obama commenting on religious intolerance when the US itself is in such an obnoxious situation where the newsrooms account for 88% whites compared to 12% non whites. The only time when non-whites were well represented to a certain extent in the newsroom was during the civil rights movement in the 1960s. During the movement, newspapers hired scores for black journalists to cover the racial unrest and the sensitive issues in their communities. So does the American society expect such type of movements every time to improve representation? Yes, it indeed does.
One thing is clear – the representation of non-whites has improved in numbers, but if we look at the constituted population, it still has a long way ahead. Lastly, as Deas says, “I am concerned that digital newsroom that exclude minorities, who make up nearly 40% of the US population, will render themselves irrelevant and hamper rational public discourse.”
Diversity In Indian Media
Liberty, equality and fraternity are the values that lie at the core of the Indian constitution. It was this constitution that gave women, Dalits and minorities the rights that the African-Americans had to fight for over two centuries. Is the egalitarian image of Indian society that is presented to the world really true? What role has ‘media’ played in nurturing diversity and pluralism in India? Is the Indian media similar to the so called ‘racial’ media in America? Does Indian media take into account the Dalits and minorities that account for a large section of the Indian population? The quest for truth continues.
Through the prisms of ‘ownership’ and ‘representation’, one can understand diversity in Indian media to be almost identical to its American counterpart. Ownership patterns in India are not as concentrated as in the US, but the equations are identical. Apart from the state owned ‘Doordarshan’, right from NDTV to Network 18 to Jagran, the private media houses are owned by the elites who are mostly from the upper-caste and upper-class strata.
Strangely, not a single prominent private news network is owned by Dalits or Muslims. The ‘elites’ have majority of the share holdings. Unlike America, which has various commissions to look into the ownership patterns (such as FCC), there is no room for such commissions in India.
CB Prasad pleaded the Press Council of India to follow the ASNE’s methods. As CP Chandrasekhar says in this article, “Within each kind of media business there is a real threat of domination that dilutes the basic tendency towards diversity and pluralism characteristic if Indian media marketplace.” In short, there is no room for Dalits and minorities to own media houses.
The aspect of representation is worse in Indian media. As Chandra Bhan Prasad states in “End Apartheid from Indian media”, India (99 million copies sold) has a powerful press ranked next to China (107 million copies sold). The US comes fourth in the list. India has over 4,720 daily newspapers and 14,743 weeklies. With a significant number of news channels and with India’s electronic media also making its mark, who exactly does the Indian media represent? For some reasons, the representative Indian elite has turned journalism into a kind of ‘social sect.’ Most Indian editors and news channel heads are near-white in skin, speak English with a Victorian accent and imitate Westerners in table manners and lifestyle.
In this article published in the Hindu, Robin Jeffrey says, “Is it a calamity that Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are almost completely absent from newspapers and television? Of course it is. It’s a calamity for at least three reasons.
First, it means that the Constitution is not being lived up to. The Constitution promises “equality” and “fraternity.” There’s something deficient about “equality” if a quarter of the population is missing from the Fourth Estate. And it’s hard to fraternise — to practise fraternity — with people who aren’t there.
Second, a fitting presence in newsrooms, and the varied coverage that it brings, mitigates the resentment of people who are ignored and discriminated against. Recognition of tribulations and achievements combats discrimination. And if meaningful changes do not happen, resentment will bubble up destructively — as it already does in areas of Maoist influence in eastern India. Constant, probing stories about the triumphs and agonies of people on the margins help to effect remedies and turn barriers into bridges.”
The article goes on to make an interesting comparison between the Dalits and African-Americans: “Part of the answer lies in the fact that Dalits lack advantages that Black America enjoyed (though “enjoy” is hardly the right word) even in the 1920s. Most important was a black middle class of shop-owners and professionals. Such people could buy advertisements and put up capital to back a publication. Black America worked in a single language, English, and had networks of churches and their pastors who provided respected leaders, education and connections. Martin Luther King was one of many. Black America was also less divided internally: caste among African Americans was not a problem, though skin tone may have been.”
Kenneth J Cooper, a noted African-American journalist working in the Washington Post, found it extremely difficult to find a single Dalit media person in Delhi.
BN Uniyal came up with a wonderful article in the Pioneer. He echoed Cooper’s concerns, “Suddenly I realised that in all the 30 years I had worked as a journalist, I had never met a fellow journalist who was a Dalit; no, not one.”
68 years after independence, this is the diversity and pluralism we have to show and we need people like Kenneth Cooper to tell us what kind of discrimination prevails. Babasaheb Ambedkar said it well, “with the press in hand, it is easy to manufacture great men.” But today, these great men belong to just the upper caste. If we look at the list of editors of prominent newspapers and magazines through the years, we don’t come across a single Dalit person which is really worrisome. An interview by J Balasubramaniam in the Economic and Political Weekly is worth noting, as it helps us to completely understand how upper caste editors can be ‘racial’ during interviews:
“Editor: Where are you from?
Bala: I am from Tirunelveli Sir.
Editor: I hope Pillamars are numerically in majority, isn’t it?
Bala: Yes sir, most of them reside in town
Editor: Do you belong to the Pillamar caste?
Bala : No Sir.
Editor: Ok…. (Silence) we will inform you when we need people.”
There was no call after that. This is actually the style in which it is done. CB Prasad perfectly states that if the Ku Klax Klan (KKK) has any relatives left, Indian editors and news channel heads can be described as their soft copies considering the times we live in today.
Siddharth Varadarajan wrote in the Hindu, “If television and newspaper coverage of the anti-reservation agitation was indulgent and one-sided, the lack of diversity in the newsroom is surely a major culprit.” He concludes by appealing to diversify the newsroom by consciously bringing in those sections (Dalits, tribals, OBC and Muslims) of society who have hitherto been excluded.“There are a million stories out there waiting to be told. If only we allow the story tellers to do the telling.”Similarly in 2006, the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, conducted a survey which found that “of the 315 key decision makers surveyed from 37 Delhi based (Hindi and English) publications and television channels, almost 90% of decision makers in the English language print media and 79% in television were from the ‘upper caste.”
The discrimination and violence against Dalits can be seen in several cases, right from the Keelavenmani incident to the Khairlanji killings. It not only shows the ugly face of the upper castes, but also how these incidents were covered by the media. With respect to the Khairlanji case, it was shockingly reported eight days after, by DNA. But today, due to rising vote bank politics, atrocities against Dalits do come to light, but the number is small.
Things are similar when it comes to the other minorities, especially the Muslims. Majority of the Muslims in the north had Urdu as their language. A majority of the newspapers used to be in Urdu, but due to owners facing heavy financial losses, they found it difficult to continue and shifted to Hindi. Another thing of concern is that the Muslim newspapers, journals, magazines are mostly unread by the non-Muslims. Thus, the reach of Muslim media is limited to Muslims. This is a matter of concern.
We hear the views of Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami on their respective shows, and read articles of Ashok Malik and several others. But names like Santosh Valmiki and Ved Prakash have never been heard as they had to fight hard to get into journalism, coming from lower caste backgrounds. This the reality of diversity in India.
We have to take into consideration that non-whites and Dalits and minorities account for a significant portion of the American and Indian population respectively. Solving the issue of diversity in media is a prolonged process. Formally, the strength of minorities should be increased in newsrooms, as editors, sub-editors and reporters to a large extent. Their reach should be maximum in social media which is evolving drastically.
On the ownership part, certain amount should be made available by the respective governments through budgets. This may sound imprecise but certain steps need to be taken.
The civil society needs to play a proactive role. For example, if a Muslim or a Dalit person writes an article, they should not be judged by their religion or caste but rather by the content. Participation should increase not only in privately owned news channels but also in ‘Doordarshan’ under some reservation.
Governments should take note of it and try to accommodate Dalits and minorities in good numbers. When representation in media will be proportional to the population, diversity will exist. As Barry Lopez has rightly said, “Diversity is not a characteristic of life; it is a condition necessary for life …like air and water.”
The untold story of Dalit journalists
BY AJAZ ASHRAF 12/08/2013
Many Dalits enter the media because they believe it can empower their community. But discrimination against them is rampant in the Hindi and other language media is less pronounced in the English media, finds AJAZ ASHRAF in an Independence anniversary feature.
A Hoot special report
Dalit participation in the media has been pathetically poor, despite reservation for them in media institutes. Why do they keep away from the media? Is it because they encounter discrimination, as they do in many other avenues? To study their negligible presence in the media, Ajaz Ashraf identified 21 Dalits who are or were journalists and spoke to them extensively about their childhood, their experiences in media institutes, and their disenchantment with journalism. In this first of the three-part series, they describe how their Dalit identity was formed and its link to their wish to enter the media world.
It is considered a miracle if you can prick the calloused conscience of journalists in Delhi and prompt them to introspect. Yet this is what journalist BN Uniyal achieved through a piece – In Search Of a Dalit Journalist – he wrote for The Pioneer on November 16, 1996. Uniyal’s was in fact a veritable odyssey that he embarked upon in response to a request from a Delhi-based foreign correspondent. Could he, asked the correspondent, recommend him a Dalit journalist to whom he could speak on the squabble between the media and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Kanshi Ram?
In that moment Uniyal realized that in all the 30 years he had worked as a journalist he had never met a fellow journalist who was a Dalit. “No, not one,” he wrote. He took the foreign correspondent’s request to friends, editors, and columnists. None knew of a Dalit journalist. Uniyal then leafed through the Press Information Bureau’s booklet listing the names of 686 accredited journalists. Of them, 454 had caste surnames, none of which suggested he or she was Dalit; he called at random 47 of the remaining 232, and still drew a blank. Distraught, he wondered, “What would journalism be like if there were as many journalists amidst us from among the Dalits as were among the Brahmins.”
Four months ago, I stood waiting to have my passbook updated at the Central Bank of India branch located on the verdant campus of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) in Delhi. As I wondered over the employment prospects of students whom mushrooming media institutes were turning out in numbers beyond the capacity of the slowing market to absorb, Uniyal’s piece unspooled out of memory. IIMC is a government institute, I thought, which must therefore have reserved seats for Dalits from its inception in 1965. Questions assailed me: Why couldn’t Uniyal identify a single Dalit journalist in 1996? Where do Dalit students disappear after securing post-graduate diploma in journalism from IIMC, arguably among the best media institutes in the country?
I requested the office of Sunit Tandon, Director-General, IIMC, to provide me a list of Dalit students who had been admitted in the reserved category over the past few years. (Dalit, or downtrodden, is a broad category but Dalit in this piece means Scheduled Caste and both terms have been used interchangeably). As I waited for the names to be collated, I trawled the internet to read articles on Dalit representation in the media. The picture these readings conveyed was dismal.
I met journalist Anil Chamadia, chairman, Media Studies Group (MSG), which along with political scientist Yogendra Yadav conducted in 2006 a survey of 37 media organisations boasting a national presence. Not a single Dalit held the top 10 positions in any of the organisations. The MSG also surveyed 116 IIMC-trained correspondents and found that, till June 2011, only six of them were Dalit.
Some of the anecdotal accounts I read portrayed a skewed perception among dominant social groups about the Dalits. For instance, Shivam Vij’s piece, Caste in the newsroom?, featured on The Hoot website in June 2004, opens with a question he asks Dilip Awasthi, a senior editor of Dainik Jagran: Why are there so few Scheduled Caste and Backward Caste journalists? Awasthi answers: “They don’t go to school.” The next question: has Awasthi ever met a single SC/OBC journalist worthy enough of a job? He replies, “Never. They can’t write a single sentence properly.” Perhaps the supercilious attitude of dominant social groups explains why, like Uniyal, academician Robin Jeffrey couldn’t meet a Dalit journalist in his study of Indian-language newspapers, a study spread over 10 years during which he visited “20 towns, visited dozens of newspapers and interviewed more than 250 people.”
I also realised that Uniyal’s piece, contrary to my belief, hadn’t prompted editors to introspect. To celebrate the dawn of the new millennium, The Pioneer invited Uniyal to write for its eight-page Dalit supplement. He asked them to run the piece he wrote in 1996 with the following lines: “The article…was totally ignored by our journalistic establishment… None felt aghast or alarmed at the situation described in the article…No one felt there was a need for making special efforts to draw qualified Dalits into the media." These anecdotal accounts and Uniyal’s expression of dismay deepened for me the mystery of where Dalit students passing out from the IIMC wind up. Do they all choose not to enter the media? Where do they go, then?
In the third week of May, I was forwarded a list of over a hundred Scheduled Caste students who had passed out of IIMC over the last five years. I began calling them, randomly choosing phone numbers from the list. A substantial number were no longer in operation; a couple took my call but accused me of encroaching on their privacy, which I was and for which I apologised profusely; there were a few who promised to meet me, but subsequently refused to take the umpteen calls I made to them.
A good many, though, were willing to narrate their stories of what made them harbour dreams of working in the media and discuss their experiences in it. Yet, most of them said they could meet me only in the week following June 2, busy as they were preparing for a competitive examination. What they told me was news to me: on June 2, Prasar Bharati was conducting a written test for recruiting 1166 Programme Executives (PEX) and Transmission Executives (TEX), who constitute the backbone of AIR and Doordarshan stations around the country. I was a tad bewildered, having been weaned on the idea that real, free, untrammelled journalism, despite the erosion of these values over the years, is practiced in the non-government realm. This idea now stood challenged.
Over the weeks, I met those who had passed out from IIMC in the recent past, and they led me to their seniors as also to those who did not study at their alma mater but are journalists. Altogether I met or interacted over phone or email with 21 who were or are journalists, of whom one was an OBC, included here for a particular reason. Ten of them are in Hindi journalism, eight were or are in English, two in Telugu, and a clutch of them in Prasar Bharati, whom I am counting as one, for they preferred their problems to be articulated by the general secretary of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Union, fearing victimisation.
Only two of the 21 wished to have their names changed.
Lengthy conversations with them broadly suggest the following:
-- Many Dalits enter the media because they believe it can empower their community and help focus on issues hobbling them.
-- Dalits have a greater presence in the Hindi or other Indian language media than in the English media.
-- Discrimination against and antagonism to Dalits is rampant in the Hindi and other language media; it is less pronounced in the English media.
-- Nonetheless, discrimination is a principal factor behind their decision to leave the private sector media and opt for government jobs.
-- Apart from discrimination, they feel a career in the media is a risky proposition.
-- Their weak economic base makes them fear job insecurity which is a defining characteristic of the private sector.
This bland list conceals tales both tragic and inspiring, of oppression and discrimination and humiliation deeply felt, including by those who are middle class, and their struggle to overcome impoverishment and social inequality. Through their experiences was constructed their Dalit identity and the manifold meanings it held out for them and others. Often, the process through which their identity was created spawned in them the desire to enter the media. Indeed, a study of the experience of Dalits in the media without linking it to their childhood or teenage years is an incomplete picture.
Identity in the crucible of conflict
Santosh Valmiki is a principal correspondent in the Lucknow bureau of Hindustan. (He also reads news on Lucknow Doordarshan) His designation will not tell you of the poverty he grew up in, and how it defined his identity. His father was a driver and alcoholic and mother a manual scavenger. From an early age, Santosh accompanied her as she went from house to house cleaning toilets. Keen to ensure an education for her son, she would set aside a portion of her earnings, pawn jewellery or incur debts to pay his school fees.
When Santosh entered Lucknow’s Christian College, expenses mounted overnight to outstrip her indefatigable spirit. Refusing to let penury cow him down, he began to sit on the pavement across Akashvani Bhawan, selling newspapers, as also reading them, and contributing to the children’s supplement of Swatantra Bharat. You could say journalism and his Dalit identity were knitted together seamlessly.
At the IIMC interview, for which he qualified after clearing a written test, he was asked how many newspapers he read daily. Nine, he said. Nine, exclaimed the interviewers, not aware of how newspapers sustained him economically and stimulated him intellectually. When he was to leave Lucknow for the nine-month course in post-graduate diploma in Hindi journalism, his mother handed him 90 notes of Rs 10 denomination, divided into three equal bundles. Son, she said, you are to spend a note daily. This amount was in addition to the Rs 15000 the family had raised for Santosh’s tuition fees.
Success’s steps are often small, taken one at a time. Santosh won a scholarship and consequently the Rs 15000 was returned to him. He went on to top IIMC, and the photograph of the convocation ceremony showing him receiving the award from then Union Minister KR Narayanan was published in a newspaper. He was the talking point of the Valmiki community: a son had risen from amidst them to even stir Delhi. You would think Santosh would be satisfied in having catapulted, Amitabh Bachchan style, from the pavement into the bureau of a major national daily. Judge him not from the obstacles he surmounted to achieve what he has, but against his own potential. Still a principal correspondent after having worked in the media for over two decades ago, he said, “Those junior to me in the profession have become editors.”
It is not just through poverty and supposedly polluting nature of their jobs Dalits begin to fathom who they are. Ask Ved Prakash, currently assistant producer in Total TV, who first learnt about his socially defined inferior status through the tone in which upper castes spoke to Dalit elders, and because, as a child, he’d be reprimanded for retaliating against upper caste children in fights they would trigger. There were also other realities fashioning his idea of self – for instance, his father, who was a clerk in Bihar’s revenue department, had brothers who climbed palm trees to bring down taadi (toddy) and his mother’s brother was a mason.
I met Ved at night, on the sprawling campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and sat on the floor of a building, under a fluorescent tube. Close to midnight, knots of students were still huddled around Ganga dhaba or seated on boulders dotting the open space across it. Their chatter drifted across to us in the sultry night, telling us they were planning their future. “I wanted to increase Dalit participation in the media, to use it to challenge the social structure,” Ved said.
This desire was born in Ved because he experienced the cutting edge of caste at the time he was appointed a teacher in the primary school of Kashichak block, Nawadah. During his tenure there he completed his M. Com and then enrolled for Masters in Mass Communication at the Nalanda Open University. A village should have feted a master so accomplished. It was in fact just the reverse – upper castes resented that their children had a Dalit teacher.
One day, Ved pointed to the errors in the notebook of a pupil who took tuition from an upper caste teacher of the same village. In Bihar’s matrix of caste, Ved was deemed to have crossed a red line. The upper caste teacher accosted him in the local market, rubbished his educational qualification, and began to push him around until others intervened. But the hurt upper caste pride demanded vengeance. Subsequently, an infamous upper caste bully accused Ved of spanking an ironsmith’s son, and publicly beat him up. Ved invoked the Scheduled Caste and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against the assailant, and also decided to take the IIMC entrance examination, which he successfully cleared last year. He is now in Total TV, drawing a salary of Rs 8000, an amount he thought he could earn driving a three-wheeler, and on which he finds hard to live in Delhi.
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Aug 13, 2013
Dalits in media feel the sting of caste discrimination
Dalits do not abound in the media; and those who have made it there feel that they are discriminated against, especially in the regional media
Meaning of being a Dalit in media
Being a Dalit in the media should mean never losing sight of the social, economic and political concerns of the community. What is generally seen is that the establishment uses the Dalit representatives only to expand and strengthen its base
BY ANIL CHAMADIA अनिल चमड़ियाON JANUARY 7, 2017
Whenever the issue of Dalits in the media crops up, it is always said that the representation of Dalits in the media is next to nothing. The question that arises here is, will things change if, for argument’s sake, like in Parliamentary institutions, representation of Dalits is ensured in the media, too? Another vital question is whether the Dalits who have secured a place in other institutions, including Parliament, really care about security and other concerns of the common Dalits? There is no doubt about the need for the presence of Dalits in media organisations to break the stranglehold of the caste system – a great challenge for Indian society – but it should be remembered that a mere increase in representation will not solve the problem. We need to look beyond.
Being a Dalit in the media should mean never losing sight of the social, economic and political concerns of the community. What is generally seen is that the establishment uses the Dalit representatives only to expand and strengthen its base. In many major newspapers and big media organisations, women often talk the language of male chauvinism. Ditto with Dalits.
Dalits have not only been victims of casteist discrimination but have also suffered economic and political exploitation. The reasons behind their political and economic subjugation are obvious, all around us. Dalits form a majority of the labour force in agriculture – the biggest source of livelihood and employment in our country. But if the depiction of the condition of the Dalits is analyzed, it would seem that the media is stuck with the mindset of 1947.
Merely reporting incidents of atrocities against Dalits is not enough. It is clear that the media is not ready to aid the struggle against exploitation of and atrocities against Dalits. Every year, data on crimes against Dalits under IPC and other statutes is tabled in Parliament. If the figures are obtained for the last 50 years, it would be clear that murders and rapes of Dalits far outnumber similar crimes even during the deadliest of wars. But things are never presented this way. There is never the talk of an ideological struggle against the repression of Dalits. No attempt is made to bring Dalits on one platform – to unite them – for this purpose.
Here, I would like to present two examples, which would show how concerned the media really is about the situation of the Dalits. A particular journalist in the English media has come to be recognized as the most ardent advocate of the interests of the depressed classes, especially Dalits. He gave great importance to the news of sanitary employees of a municipal administration in Haryana thrashing their superiors. The fact is that there is nothing new about such incidents. Such incidents keep on happening in small towns and municipalities and they cannot and should not be linked to the rise in Dalit awareness. In fact, they have been reported from the time municipal bodies came into existence. If the employees are not paid their salaries on time or when they need it, they use their brooms against their supervising officials. But this journalist seems to have been so insulated from the goings-on that he saw the incident as the first of its kind in the last 50 years!
The second example is from my own experience. I wrote an article arguing that Dalits should be given firearms for self-defence. I referred to the frequent massacres of Dalits and recalled the decision of the Karpoori Thakur government in Bihar to give guns to Dalits and also to train them in their use. I also cited the fact that during the regimes of Jagannath Mishra and Bindeshwari Dubey in Bihar, government officials went door to door giving gun licences to landlords and organised camps to teach them how to use the guns. But no English daily published my article. In another of my articles, I said that firing by police does not have any place in a democratic society. This article was also turned down by English newspapers: why anyone in their right mind would deprive policemen of their right to open fire, they asked. The counterargument in the case of the article pleading for guns for Dalits was that it would encourage violence. This is an instance of how arguments are crafted to defend the state’s right to commit violence and to question the right of the oppressed communities to self-defence.
Then, I sent the article about arming Dalits to some periodicals that are known to be ‘progressive’ and ‘revolutionary’ and have a niche readership. One of them was the Economic and Political Weekly. I talked to its then editor in Mumbai, who asked me to resend it and I duly obliged. But the article was never published. Then, I sent it for publication in the ‘Dalit special number’ of Seminar. A week later, I was told that it was too long and needed to be shortened. I shortened it, and soon the issue was in the stands but the article was not in it. I asked the editor about my piece and I was told that it was not used as ‘it talked of guns’.
Thus, it is presumed that giving guns to Dalits would exacerbate violence. But when the same guns are slung across the shoulders of landlords and upper castes or are hanging on the walls of their homes, they become instruments of self-defence! The reality, though, is that these weapons are mainly used against Dalits. The Dalits who are killed by the police and landlords are described by the media and the government as naxalites and their killing justified. At the same time, the feudal landlords are referred to as farmers and the need for protecting and patronizing them is repeated ad nauseam. Dalits remain dalits only when atrocities are committed against them. When they fight against their repression, they become criminals, naxalites and Maoists.
The fact of the matter is that the media does not want the Dalits to take any independent initiative. It wants Dalits to continue to be objects of sympathy as it plays the role of their saviour. This is the key to understanding the media’s reporting on Dalit issues. The media wants to project only those Dalits who do not strike hard at atrocities against their brethren.
An English newspaper recently carried a report on how Girija Devi, a representative of the Musahar caste, which eats rats, was going to speak in the US. Musahars are a community imbued with revolutionary consciousness. But it was only referred to as a rat-eating community. Why? Because that not only brings some novelty and attraction to the story but also it can be used to prove how globalisation had given a representative of an utterly impoverished community an opportunity of travelling to the US. It is in this perspective that the issues of Dalits in media, Dalit representation and Dalit concerns should be seen.
Published in the January 2014 issue of the Forward Press magazine
The Dalit Voice is Simply Not Heard in the Mainstream Indian Media
It is the responsibility of non-Dalit journalists to be casteless and fight for equality in the country.
Students in Delhi protest against the death of Rohith Vemula. Credit: PTI
This is the English translation of a speech given by Jeya Rani, a journalist for over 15 years from Tamil Nadu at the Network of Women in Media in India (NWMI) conference last week. NWMI is an informal collective of women journalists across the country.
Jeya spoke of her experiences as a Dalit woman journalist and the caste, class, gender bias in mainstream media. The speech was given in Tamil and has been translated by Kavitha Muralidharan.
As responsible journalists and people with creative instincts, let us imagine an interesting scenario. What if tomorrow a law is enacted insisting that all the media houses in the country should prioritise and publish/telecast only caste related atrocities. Let us remember this is just a wild imagination. What would happen then? What if there is an emergency like situation? What if a media house is threatened with the cancellation of license if it fails to adhere to the law? Again, this is just an imagination. We all know what would happen. The media houses will be forced to expose a caste atrocity every second. They will have to expose caste related violence every minute. But they would not be daunted by the task.
Jeya Rani. Courtesy: Neha Dixit
Even as I stand here speaking to you, somewhere someone is being killed or raped, humiliated or outraged, just because she or he was born in a lower caste.
The ‘not so changing’ statistics of National Crime Records Bureau say that a Dalit is assaulted every two hours in India. So we would get breaking news every two hours.
At least three Dalit women are raped every 24 hours. Call it exclusive, mask the face of the woman or you can even leave it unmasked since she is a Dalit and keep breaking the news.
Two Dalits are killed every 24 hours. Two Dalit houses are burnt down. There would be no dearth of breaking news or good TRP ratings. In an era where violence incites more sensationalism than a porn video, commercialising Dalit atrocities will only be beneficial. As long as the six lakh villages in India are segregated as oors (where the dominant castes live) and cheris (where the Dalits live), as long as the hands of dominant castes write and enforce the living laws for Dalits through khappanchayats, there would be no scarcity of news related to violence against Dalits.
If there were such a law, as we are now imagining, breaking news would become the norm of the day. Like channels created war rooms to encourage the war against Pakistan, there would be caste clash rooms, violence rooms, untouchability rooms, protection of cow rooms and ghar wapsi rooms.
I wish this would happen for us to really understand how bad the caste domination is in India today. To many of us, caste atrocities are just what we hear or see. We never get a complete idea about what really happens in terms of caste atrocities throughout the country. It is like blind people touching the elephant. I believe the country’s indifference to the caste atrocities largely arises from this blind men and the elephant idea.
Now let’s go back to the real world.
So now we know the violence against the Dalits are like Akshaya Patra to the news hungry media. The thousands of print media houses and hundreds of television houses will always have something new to give its readers and viewers. But how does the media actually see the atrocities against Dalits? What is the space, in terms of percentage, given to violence on Dalits in a day, a week, a month and a year by the media houses?
Crimes against Dalits see a rise of 10-20% every year. In a just society, the media’s space to violence against Dalits should have correspondingly increased too. But has it happened? We all know it has not. Now let us understand why it has not happened.
Just like in a society where we have rigid caste hierarchies, the media and journalists too operate on the basis of caste hierarchies. The fourth pillar of democracy has come crumbling down under the pressure of caste hierarchies when it should have stood upright holding the torch of justice.
There is a term called oozhikaalam in Tamil. The closest English word to it is apocalypse. As a responsible journalist, I would call this era the apocalypse of the media world. Because, it is precisely this media world that controls the entire movement of society. The media decides what should happen today, what I should be discussing today, how I should think on an issue, what decision to take, what to eat or what to buy. The media’s influence on individual decisions is largely conditioned by the one-dimensional approach of the powers-to-be. What media sows in the morning is harvested by society in the evening. What media writes every day becomes the judgment on anything and everything in the following days.
The mainstream media is not for the poor, not for the oppressed. It has carved its kingdom out of loyalty to the powers, to bureaucracy, to domination. It is neither for minorities nor for women and children. Most certainly not for the Dalits. Over 95% of owners of the mainstream media including print and television come from dominant caste backgrounds. About 70-80% of the topmost positions are occupied by dominant caste men. Dalits don’t even constitute 1% when it comes to deciding power in the country’s media. When the diversity of media is butchered, how can Dalits and the oppressed expect any justice or even space from them?
English media, once in a while, does carry news on caste atrocities. But the possibility of even carrying anything remotely connected to violence on Dalits is ruled out completely in the vernacular media. Dalit journalists invariably end up in the vernacular media due to various factors. That includes their family and societal factors. Most Dalit journalists are first generation graduates. They lack the ‘desired colour’ and they lack proficiency in English. Vernacular media accommodates them but treats them badly. They are not considered on par with journalists from other communities when it is time for promotions or salary hikes. And this I also say from my own experience.
After ten years of media experience, the channel I worked for paid me a meagre Rs 18,000. I was a scriptwriter for a daily show, worked through days and nights and had earned respect for my work. But when it was time for salary hike, I did not even get a 100 rupee raise. A junior employee, with less work load, but obviously from a different caste, was given a greater hike. Her salary was Rs 40,000. This is what Dalits face in media. They have only two options: to shrink themselves to fit the space media offers them or to leave the profession altogether.
When I was a student of journalism, I had written a story on the struggle of Dalit labourers in Manjolai Tea Estate and the state violence against them, which resulted in 17 deaths.
The story had appeared in my university magazine and after that, I almost faced suspension. That was my first story and the experience fuelled my passion to write more against caste related atrocities. But when I transitioned to mainstream media looking for employment opportunities, I was in for a rude shock. There were two things that acted as speed breakers. For a vernacular journalist to go about working on socio-political stories was considered unwanted. Unless there is a mass murder, violence against Dalits was never taken into account. All my ideas for stories were trashed. I was seen as something of a rebel.
As soon as I began my career, in a matter of few months I ended up as a reporter for a women’s magazine. I suggested a serial on women panchayat presidents. The idea was trashed several times as not being fit for a women’s magazine, but I kept persisting. Finally when it was accepted I made a list of five leaders I could meet and set up my first meeting with Menaka.
She was then a panchayat president with Oorapakkam panchayat in Kanchipuram district. I had no idea that she was a Dalit.
I had wanted to speak of the challenges she faced as a woman. Menaka was speaking about the challenges she faced as a Dalit. She told me the members of dominant caste never allowed her to sit in the chair meant for the panchayat president. She was receiving death threats. They wanted her to quit her post. She had filed a complaint against police station, but there was no action on her complaint.
After spending a day with her and gathering her experiences, I went back to the office next day and filed my story. It was trashed again. It was apparently not suitable for the magazine. My editor insisted I write recipes instead. I distinctly remember the evening. Under huge mental pressure I was walking on the road contemplating if I should quit the job that wanted me to write only recipes. Something in the posters of the evening newspapers caught my eye. The posters screamed about the murder of a panchayat president and I was trembling when I bought the paper. My worst fears had come true. Menaka was murdered for sitting on the chair in the panchayat office.
I took the newspaper to my editor and fought with her. She was not even slightly rattled. All she would say was to finish my recipe assignment. I went to Oorapakkam without my office’s permission that night and took part in Menaka’s funeral. After coming back to Chennai I spoke to the editor of an investigative magazine published by the same group and he agreed to publish Menaka’s interview. After all, it was her last interview before being murdered. It had news value now. I couldn’t work in the group any longer. After much thought, I understood how the media worked. I need the economic independence of the mainstream job. And I need to take anti-caste journalism forward. I understood this is not possible in mainstream media. I made my space in the alternative media.
Dalit Murasu, a magazine with the sole aim of annihilating caste, became my forte. I wrote on caste issues that I could never write in the mainstream media. But I published them under different pseudonyms. My articles in Dalit Murasu over a span of 15 years have been published as Jaathiyatravalin Kural (the voice of a casteless woman) and have been well received.
This is my story. My personal story. I am aware that not all Dalit journalists are as lucky as I have been. Even if my ideas have been rejected in all editorial meetings, I kept suggesting ideas on caste atrocities. I made it a point to do so. I stopped worrying about what people would think of me. I reminded myself that my duty as a journalist was to be a voice to the voiceless. But if and when a Dalit journalist writes on Dalit issues or even speaks about it, their colleagues call it caste affinity or caste pride. How can a Dalit feel proud about her or his caste?
The effort of Dalit journalists to record the violence against Dalits is only an expression of their anti-caste emotion, not an attempt to promote their own caste. But my Dalit colleagues, affected by such baseless criticisms, would not show the same interest in caste issues as they would in a political issue. Several of them had to even conceal their identity and live with that. It is shameful that media houses have still not created a free and fair atmosphere where the Dalits can work without any kind of inhibition.
After all that they have gone through, after their voices were throttled into silence, how can a Dalit journalist even speak? Caste violence is never an issue for journalists from other castes. Because they are related by blood to those who spawn the violence outside the media houses they work for.
Many of us would know about journalist Ajaz Ashraf’s research on Dalit journalists for The Hoot. He says the Dalit journalists wanted to empower their communities and throw some light on Dalit issues through the work they do. He also says there are more Dalit journalists in Hindi and vernacular media when compared to English media. But there is also a lot of discrimination in the Hindi and and in the vernacular media. He says a lot of Dalit journalists quit jobs that neither offer them security or development. They begin looking for government jobs. Many Dalit journalists are left with no choice.
When Ajaz was doing this research, he got in touch with me. I was then with a lifestyle magazine as its editor. Something he refused to believe. He kept asking me how can a Dalit journalist be an editor of a lifestyle magazine. I can understand he was pleasantly surprised. Due to several personal reasons, I couldn’t answer his questions. But I was not surprised about his reaction. For me it was easy to become an editor of a lifestyle magazine. But despite my fieldwork of 15 years as a socio-political journalist, I can’t think of becoming an editor for a socio-political news magazine or paper. I don’t see that happening even after ten years.
Of course I don’t say this in a negative way. I place before you the reality of this society. The society is still not bold enough to hand over the responsibility of exposing socio-political issues to a Dalit journalist. You can have no shred of doubt that if handed over such a responsibility, a socially conscious editor would expose the caste hegemony in a mainstream area.
We also know what happened in Khairlanji in 2006. Why hadn’t the violence against Khairlanji by an entire community become as important to media as say, a Nirbhaya. Or like any other violence against women from other communities? Why hadn’t Kairlanji made headlines?
Today, media organisations find news value even in a non-news item. But they are still not concerned about manual scavenging in this era, about cooks refusing to cook for Dalit children in schools, or about Dalits displaced for urbanisation. These atrocities are never capable of hitting the headlines in front page. We have seen screaming headlines when an Indian is racially attacked elsewhere.
How could the same media turn a blind eye to the racist attacks in the name of caste happening right under its nose?
In a conference against racism at Durban in 2001, Dalits demanded that caste be ratified as racism. In its response, Indian government said caste was an internal issue and would be dealt with internally.
To shrink an issue that has been alive for 2000 years now, that has trampled on all human rights, that has made every Dalit child born to bear the symbol of slavery on its back as an internal issue is an outrageously blatant human rights violation.
In Tamil Nadu, hundreds of discriminatory practices still exist and thrive. From two-tumbler system to honour killing, the discriminatory practices only keep growing. Our villages are still divided as oor and cheri. The discrimination faced by Dalits there has existed for over thousand years now. Dalits have been killed for refusing to do menial jobs, for wearing slippers, for going to school. They suffer punishments worse than death, in these days when consciousness about human rights has become sharper.
A Hindu woman made two Dalit men eat human excreta when they refused to do a job she wanted them to do. This happened at Thinniyam in Tamil Nadu some years back. When this hatred is passed through generations, how can it be shrunk to an ‘internal issue’?
Caste is not a civil issue. It is a national issue. It is a disease that has affected national integration. But caste violence is seen as crimes by individuals. Leave alone the national media, even the local media is not interested in a caste atrocity.
I strongly believe Rohith Vemula’s letter would not have got the attention it did if it was not written in English or if it had lacked that poetic language. When Rohith Vemula’s death was being debated across the country, a similar suicide happened in Aasanur at Villupuram district, Tamil Nadu. Ayyaru, a Dalit youth, decided to end his life unable to bear the caste violence inflicted on him. He too wrote a letter. Ayyaru worked as a peon in a panchayat office. Because he was a Dalit, the panchayat president Shanthi and her husband forced him to clean toilets. In his letter Ayyaru writes, ‘Fear is a drop of poison.’
The letter did not create even one percent of the impact that Rohith’s letter did. Because Ayyarus are murdered often. Murdered by ordinary people like us. No media makes news out of atrocities faced by Dalits in villages where they are forced to live in cheris. It is not even seen as a caste violation. It is not seen as a violation worthy of our intervention. Society recognised injustice in Rohith’s letter but it could not recognise the injustice in Ayyaru’s letter. Many of us are not even aware of Ayyaru’s suicide. Like he says, the fear Dalits carry in their hearts for years now is a drop of poison. When it grows, it becomes an ocean. This fear is not something that plagued Ayyaru as an individual. It is the fear transferred through various hands to reach Ayyaru. By his death, Ayyaru hands it over to the next generation.
In several revolutions and changes that have happened in independent India, this fear remains conspicuous, unconquered. What is our role and responsibility as journalists towards this fear factor that seems to have gripped the Dalits?
How qualified should Dalits be to seek the attention of the media? Why isn’t the media concerned about Ayyaru as it was about Rohith if it opposes caste related deaths?
On the day we begin reading Ayyaru’s letters, on the day we begin demanding justice for Ayyaru’s death, on the day we oppose violations by people like us, we can be sure that the media is actually changing. That it has begun scrubbing itself up.
I believe a journalist’s first and foremost qualification is being casteless. If journalists can practice equality in all other platforms, they can as well do it in caste too. They should become casteless and work against caste. Dalits expect non-Dalits to work for annihilation of caste just as we would expect men to practice gender equality. Sadly Dalit journalists are sometimes used to document caste violations. To ask Dalits to involve themselves in annihilation of caste is as funny as asking women to practice gender equality.
We should work on strategies that will bring more news on Dalit issues into our newsrooms. By doing so, we should bring their travails into light. There can be no second opinion on this. But how do we go about it? How many journalists and organisations are pro-reservation? How can we expect private players to grant reservation when government media has not done so?
Journalist organisations should make just representation as one of their demands along with other rights. They should come forward to monitor violations against Dalit journalists and ensure action in the event of such violation. The field should become more open and independent for Dalit journalists. The workplace should offer them dignity and respect. I am sure that organisations like NWMI can take a lead role in this.
Imagine the multiple challenges faced by Dalit journalists – they are first generation graduates, they carry the centuries of shame in their hearts, they learn English the hard way, the dress up well and enter into offices as a personality of their own and once again they face discriminations there. Yet they stick on for money and something more. To document the plight of people like them. Isn’t this a challenge enough? The research by Ajaz concludes that Dalit journalists face this challenge.
Change might happen only after several generations. Till then, national and mainstream media will not accommodate Dalits. The vacuum has to be filled by non-Dalit journalists who believe in equality. It is the primary responsibility of the non-Dalits to transform this country as casteless. To understand the difference between a crime and an atrocity, they should wean themselves from oorsand set their foot in cheris. If you want to see the violations faced by Dalits, the discrimination suffered by them, you cannot see them with a naked eye. You need the vision of castelessness to see it and to understand it.
This is my final appeal to everyone here. If you identify yourself as a journalist, be casteless. When everyone who believes in caste starts believing in the annihilation of caste, the miracle that I am now speaking of will happen. It certainly will. Some day.
Jeya Rani is a journalist for over 15 years from Tamil Nadu.
Her Tamil original has been translated into English by Kavitha Muralidharan.
No Room For Dalits In India’s Newsrooms, Reporter Finds Only 3 In All Of Karnataka
Posted on May 11, 2016 Stories by YKA
By Maitreyee Boruah for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Had it not been for Rohith Vemula’s heart-rending account of his early life as a Dalit in the note he left behind, it might have been just another suicide.
But the contents of the suicide note not only led to massive protests, it also triggered a series of debates in the media on the discrimination faced by Dalits in higher educational institutes.
In such a scenario, where newsrooms have never attempted to make their spaces diverse in nature, a recent advertisement by a popular magazine seems to be a step in the right direction.
In media houses, where the hiring process is largely informal, with very few publications and TV channels advertising positions for journalists, the said magazine’s advertisement seeking ‘a Dalit- or an Adivasi-only person’ for the post of a reporter is rare.
Reliable data is not available to establish the number of Dalit/Adivasi journalists in media; experts say it is minuscule. Media critics say coverage on issues of caste, communalism and discrimination lacks sensitivity because of the absence of journalists from these sections.
“These days, media houses scout for entry-level journalists from media schools. Most of the Dalits/Adivasis are poor. They can’t afford to pay the high fees charged by these institutes. Thus, very few young Dalits/Adivasis are getting trained as journalists,” says Aditya Sinha, author and former editor-in-chief of ‘DNA’ and ‘The New Indian Express’.
Sevanti Ninan, editor, ‘The Hoot’, which regularly conducts research pertaining to the media to strengthen its independence, says she had no doubt that the number is still minuscule, but the situation is changing.
“The Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), Chennai has scholarships for Dalit journalists. One of their graduates is a state correspondent of The Hindu. They have applicants from other states (outside Tamil Nadu) and there would be a dozen or more coming out of their course. The Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) has some reserved seats too. Dalits like tribal journalists are attracted to the reservation that exists for them in teaching and other jobs. Journalism does not offer them a secure future,” Ninan adds.
As per a report published in Kafila in 2014, “Though, the Asian College of Journalism—a not-for-profit school–does not have reserved seats, it accorded scholarship to four SC/ST students in 2012-13, as previous years. Notwithstanding scholarship, the percentage of Dalit students in ACJ to the total intake is woefully low: 1.5 percent of the total students for three-year combined.” It also cites how, “Some expensive private institutions such as Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, Xavier Institute of Communication, Times School of Journalism and Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication have no scholarship or reserved seats for SC/ST students.”
“Our media houses are not pluralistic and liberal in nature. Most editors and journalists are from the upper castes and privileged sections,” says Chandra Bhan Prasad, Dalit author, and mentor to the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI).
“The near-absence of Dalit and Adivasi journalists reflects in the way news related to underprivileged sections is given scant importance by the press,” he adds.
Even the aforementioned magazine advertisement cites the same reason for the “diversity position” in its job posting.
E-mail queries sent to the executive editor of the magazine to find out the response received by them to their advertisement went unanswered.
To date no survey has been conducted by any competent authority, including the Press Council of India (PCI), to know the exact percentage of Dalit and Adivasi in Indian newsrooms. It is a fact though that very few from these sections of society are in mainstream media.
Lack of ‘merit’ and the Dalit ‘preference’ to work in the government sector are often cited as reasons for the absence of journalists from underprivileged sections in media houses.
Times Have Not Changed: The Case Of Karnataka
Bala Gurumurthy, author, activist and administrative officer at the Karnataka government run Dr. Ambedkar Research Institute which studies socio-economic status of SC/ST in the state, says Dalit issues make headlines only when they are violent in nature such as rape, murder, and suicide.
Dr. Ambedkar Research Institute was established by the government of Karnataka in 1994. The Institute functions under the administrative control of the Social Welfare Department. The main motto of the institute is to study the socio-economic status of the SC/ST population in Karnataka.
“What about social boycott? A Dalit endures various kinds of humiliation and struggle. How many times TV debates bring those questions to the fore?” Gurumurthy asks even as he insists that very few journalists are sensitive towards the cause of the Dalit and the marginalized.
Two decades ago, B.N. Uniyal, a veteran journalist from Delhi made an attempt to “find” a Dalit journalist in Delhi at the request of a foreign correspondent, who wanted to speak to a “Dalit” journalist on a tussle between Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leaders and journalists.
Uniyal could not find a single Dalit working journalist! The result of his frustrating search was a pioneering article“In Search Of A Dalit Journalist” published in The Pioneer on November 16, 1996.
17 years later, in 2013, Delhi-based journalist and author Ajaz Ashraf, for a story he wrote, could identify only 21 Dalit journalists across India.
Today, 20 years after Uniyal’s search for a Dalit journalist, the author of this report could zero in on only three Dalit working journalists in all of Karnataka— one in an English newspaper; two in Kannada newspapers.
They shared their caste details and spoke of the discrimination Dalit journalists faces in media houses. Of the three, while two did so on strict conditions of anonymity, fearing for their “careers,” only one was comfortable in using his name.
“We are very few in number. I know only one more person (apart from me) from the Dalit community who works as a reporter in Kolar district,” says K.S. Ganesh of the popular Kannada newspaper Prajavani.
Ganesh acknowledges to discrimination against Dalit journalists in newsrooms. “It is a well-known secret. If we talk about it, it would be taken against us. We would be accused of dividing the journalist fraternity on the basis of caste,” he says.
“They say they don’t have the space. That’s their best excuse. The Kolar edition of my newspaper regularly carries stories on the marginalised sections but they don’t get published in the Bengaluru edition,” says Ganesh.
Of the other two who chose to remain anonymous, one, a senior reporter of a prominent English daily who has been working for more than 10 years said, “If I openly discuss the deep-rooted prejudice against Dalit and Adivasi in media houses, my career would be in jeopardy.”
There are many instances of leading media houses giving jobs to relatives of senior editors as they dominate the newsroom but not to a qualified Dalit, the senior reported insists.
The second Bengaluru scribe who sought anonymity and works for a Kannada daily, says people from dominant castes say the Dalit lacks merit, that the Dalit has less command over the language.
Living In Denial?
Not many upper caste journalists acknowledge the existence of caste-based bias in media.
“We are journalists, we don’t have any caste or religion. Keep caste away from the media,” says a Kolkata-based Brahmin woman journalist. “I don’t believe in the caste system. Neither do I practice caste-based discrimination. Who says a Brahmin can’t report and write on Dalits? A journalist has to be sensitive, that’s all that’s needed.”
However, a few ‘upper-caste’ journalists do admit to a dearth of scribes from marginalised sections. They blame the editors and media owners for not bridging the gap.
“It is not easy to talk about the existence of caste-based politics in newsrooms. (Only) few editors and owners of big media houses actively encourage diversity and discussion on it in newsrooms,”says Samir Kar Purkayastha, a Kolkata-based independent senior journalist.
How To Fix It
Media houses can take a cue from the US and conduct a survey on the lines of American Society of Newspaper Editors (asne.org) Newsroom Employment Diversity Survey, suggests Prasad.
“The Indian Dalit is like the African-American in the US. The American press rectified the exclusion of Blacks by increasing their numbers in newsrooms. Surveys done by ASNE are a testimony to it,”he says.
Increasing the diversity in US newsrooms has been a primary mission of ASNE since 1978. The society has been an industry leader in helping news organisations better reflect their communities, states the ASNE website.
Then there’s the question of the Dalit journalist and allegations of disparity in pay. When cancer claimed the life of Nagaraju Koppula, a Dalit scribe working with The New Indian Express, Hyderabad, in 2015, his friends alleged underpayment and caste discrimination at his workplace.
The movement could not sustain for long as it was not backed by any prominent institution. Despite the demand for compensation from the employer of Nagaraju and the intervention of the National Human Rights Commission, however, not much has happened so far.
But there are those who beg to differ. “This applies to all (journalists), irrespective of caste or gender. Similarly designated journalists are paid differently depending on place of posting, English media journalists are paid better than their counterparts in the vernacular medium. Like hiring, pay packages of journalists are never openly discussed. So it would be difficult to say if Dalit journalists are further discriminated in terms of salary,” says Purkayastha.
Ninan says there simply isn’t enough information available on this issue in the public domain.
Uniyal was disappointed when “In Search Of A Dalit Journalist” failed to force editors and owners of media houses to seriously introspect and overthrow the “Brahminical” dominance of newsrooms.
Two decades later, not much has changed: There’s very less room for the Dalit in newsrooms.
About the author: Maitreyee Boruah is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist and a senior member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters. Her reporting reflects issues of society at large and human rights in particular.
Dalit magazine turns spotlight on India's low-caste plight
While the mainstream Indian media continues to ignore the issues concerning low-caste groups and other marginalized communities, some Dalit journalists are brining out their own magazines to highlight their problems.
On August 21, Mayawati, former Chief Minister of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), addressed a rally in the city of Agra. In her speech, the Dalit politician expressed a clear distrust of India's mainstream media. Towards the end, making a special mention of pre-election surveys conducted by national media houses declaring BSP to be the frontrunner for the 2017 UP state assembly elections, Mayawati cautioned her followers to be alert to the "conspiracy" of the "rich capitalists."
"This is to make you complacent, which will help the prospects of other parties," she told her supporters.
For Ashok Das, the 33-year-old editor of the Dalit Dastak magazine, Mayawati's criticism of the Indian media was valid. "You can't trust them," Das told DW.
Das launched Dalit Dastak in 2012 to cover issues relevant to Dalits, considered to be the lowest in the Hindu caste hierarchy. They are often tormented by the upper castes, despite this being a punishable offence in the Indian constitution. Things are changing, however, and Das is just one example of the community raising its voice.
Das runs Dalit Dastak from a small one-room office in the east of Delhi
Dalit Dastak is one of the several dedicated
publications that have come up in recent years, raising issues that concern Dalits and other lower castes. Many are exclusively online and carry mainly opinion pieces. As a commercially oriented, vernacular print magazine disseminating news and reportage, Dalit Dastakhas a unique position, Das contends. "It was intentional to put the word Dalit in the title. It catches the eye and differentiates us from other publications."
After graduating from a journalism college in Delhi in 2006, Das worked for several Hindi newspapers but felt discriminated as one of very few Dalit journalists in their newsrooms. He decided to break away and start a website catering to Dalits.
Das now runs his own magazine from a small one-room office in the east of Delhi, together with a staff member in charge of distribution and a new hire who handles the website and social media pages.
"We take up issues concerning Dalits that mainstream Indian media either ignores or does not present in the proper context," explained Das, noting further that Dalits were usually presented as victims, not newsmakers. To remedy this, for example, the magazine carried stories about the participation of Dalits in last month's Rio Olympics.The circulation has grown from 2,000 copies in the first year to 25,000 copies in 2016. Its Facebook page gains several thousand "likes" each month, albeit a significant proportion of the readership remains offline, evident from the pile of hand-written letters on Das' desk.
Ignoring Dalit issues is proving to be difficult for the mainstream media now. Last month, Dalit Dastak carried a cover story about a major protest by Dalits in the western state of Gujarat. The demonstration was sparked by a video showing four local Dalits beaten up for skinning a dead cow.
The story was played up in the national media too, like student protests following the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula earlier this year.
Other major Dalit protests took place this summer in the South Asian country's financial hub, Mumbai. They, too, were widely covered.
Das believes the awareness created by magazines like his, in combination with the reach of social media, has forced the national media to take note of this recent wave of Dalit assertion.
Struggle starting to bear fruit
Above Das' desk hangs a picture of B.R. Ambedkar, a contemporary of M.K. Gandhi and the foremost leader of Dalits. Ambedkar also launched several publications during his lifetime, starting with the weekly newspaper Mooknayak (Hero of the Mute) in 1920. Kanshi Ram, the founder of Mayawati's BSP party, too started several magazines, but most of them couldn't survive after his death in 2003.
This created a "vacuum" for the new magazines to come up, said Vivek Kumar, professor of Sociology at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Das describes Kumar as his mentor, with whom he discusses the content of Dalit Dastak every month, especially its cover stories. "How do Dalits see India? Who are our icons? Which dates are important in our history?" are some of the guiding motives in selecting content, Kumar told DW.
Das does most of the reportage - one of the recent cover stories he did was about a recent temple-entry movement by Dalits in the state of Uttarakhand. It was scarcely reported in the mainstream press.
The monthly budget of about 3,000 euros allows Das to only print the cover and back page advertisement, whenever available, in color. He says upper-caste business houses keep clear of advertising in his magazine. Funding remains an issue, though the magazine has close to 80 lifetime subscribers already, charged approximately 70 euros annually. Around 20 percent of the budget comes from donations.
"The printer of the magazine trusts me enough to allow delayed payment, sometimes to the tune of three months," said Das.
Despite these hardships, both Das and Kumar are determined to continue publishing the magazine. "Our initial goal was to run it for five years," Kumar said.
Like Mayawati and Das, Kumar has no faith in mainstream media, although he sees some positive, incremental change in its Dalit coverage off late. "Editors continue to be largely indifferent, but some of the individual reporters have become sensitized to our concerns and viewpoints."
"But I think there will always be the need for a parallel media. We cannot merge with the mainstream press," he underlined.
Origins of the Chamar SurnameThere are no clear, concise answers to why or how one of your Chamar/Dalit ancestors took on the surname. It may have been based on their occupation or a distinguising physical trait. Keep in mind that it was not unusual for a last name to be altered as an ancestor entered a new country.Many of us still not bold enough to tell our caste to others, whereas most of our known are aware of our castes. I am one among them, many times I keep mum on the issue of castes. there are two reasons behind this , is people attitude towards chamar/dalit caste. Also, dalits are changing their surnames, so says a study by a senior official of Gujarat’s Social Welfare Department, highlighting the contemporary social reality in the State. The study by Hasmukh Parmar, a deputy director with the department, shows a maximum of 46.67 per cent respondents in the 30-40 years age bracket reporting a change of surname. Among reasons for the change, a high 30 percentage directly bla…
चमारद्वीप यहाँ बहुत से लोग कहते है कि यह पेज जाति पर आधारित है.. सिर्फ चमारों के हित में सोचता है.. तो उन लोगों के लिए छोटी सी जानकारी यहाँ उपलब्ध करवाई जा रही है: सभी मूल निवासियों के इतिहास का अध्ययन करने से पता चलता है कि किसी समय एशिया महाद्वीप को चमारद्वीप कहा जाता था। जो बाद में जम्बारद्वीप के नाम से जाना गया और कालांतर में वही जम्बारद्वीप, जम्बूद्वीप के नाम से प्रसिद्ध हुआ था। चमारद्वीप की सीमाए बहुत विशाल थी। चमारद्वीप की सीमाए अफ्गानिस्तान से श्री लंका तक, ऑस्ट्रेलिया, प्रायदीप और दक्षिण अफ्रीका तक फैली हुई थी। 3200 ईसा पूर्व जब यूरेशियन चमारद्वीप पर आये तो देश का विघटन शुरू हुआ। क्योकि हर कोई अपने आप को युरेशियनों से बचाना चाहता था। जैसे जैसे देश का विघटन हुआ, बहुत से प्रदेश चमारद्वीप से अलग होते गए और चमारद्वीप का नाम बदलता गया। भारत के नामों का इतिहास कोई ज्यादा बड़ा नहीं है परन्तु हर मूल निवासी को इस इतिहास का पता होना बहुत जरुरी है, तो ईसा से 3200 साल पहले एशिया महाद्वीप का नाम चमारद्वीप था, यूरेशियन भारत में आये तो जम्बारद्वीप हो हो गया, 485 ईसवी तक भारत का नाम जम्बूद्वीप …
Palwankar Baloo was a spin bowler and a scheduled caste social reformer Vithal Palwankar (c.1886 – 26 November 1971), who belonged to a scheduled caste, was not only a star player, he was the first captain of the Hindus’ cricket team in the Bombay Quadrangular cricket competition. This page became necessary because the SC contribution to India’s international cricket teams has not been adequately documented. You can help by sending additional information to the Facebook page,Indpaedia.com, including about great domestic players and about ST players. Information used will be duly acknowledged.
SC players who have represented India Career highlights 1 Doddanarasiah Ganesh 2 Karsan Devjibhai Ghavri 3 Vinod Ganpat Kambli 4 Eknath Dhondu Solkar 5 Sanjay Banger 6 Kedar Jadhav Doddanarasiah Ganesh Dodda Ganesh, born June 30, 1973, was one of Karnataka’s finest bowlers, but only made a fleeting appearance on the international stage. Karthik Parimal looks back at the career of this domestic stalwart. In t…