By Abhishek Jha:
Lokmat, the largest selling newspaper in Marathi, recently carried a front page piece that opposed reservation, in relation to the Patel agitation. Soon after there was a peaceful march in Nagpur where the newspaper was denounced, copies of it burnt, and subscriptions cancelled. The very next day, the newspaper announced on its front page that it was not opposed to reservation. In a similar incident from across the globe, a viral video from the Baltimore agitation, earlier this year, shows Geraldo Rivera of Fox News being confronted for its selective coverage of news from Baltimore.
“Let’s not assume that media is outside the globe,” Paul Divakar, convener at National Campaign On Dalit Human Rights, said on Saturday at the Press Club of India. He was speaking at a public meeting organised in memory of Nagaraju Koppula, ‘Addressing Casteism and Discrimination In Indian Media’. Nagaraju’s death has once again brought the question of casteism in media to the fore, which was first brought to light by B.N. Uniyal with his piece in The Pioneer in 1996. Anil Chamadia, moderating the meeting, said that Nagaraju’s case shows us that Dalits continue to be discriminated against in media, despite their talent, and the meeting sought to bring a continuity to this discourse.
However, it is not surprising that this questioning itself would be seen with suspicion and contempt. Uniyal, in his 1996 piece, recorded several such counter questions, one of them reads: “Do you mean to say the Press is really Manuwadi as Kansi Ram says? Do you think any of us writes or reports as a Brahmin journalist, or as a Kayastha or a Jain journalist?” And in 2015, preempting such comments, Paul Divakar noted that during the tsunami and the earthquake in Gujarat, Dalits had to be flown in to clear the carcasses, they were denied shelter in the makeshift tents, and compensation was denied to them because they were not landowners, indicating that there’s been no change in the casteist structure of the Indian society. If caste operates even in the times of natural disasters, the burden of proof then must lie on the media and not those who question its casteist nature; and as statistics from previous studies were quoted during the meeting, there remained no doubt that the media must be subjected to an examination of casteism inherent in it.
Dilip C. Mandal, former Managing Editor of India Today, brought to notice that a national commission in USA, constituted to look into the causes and prevention of violence in 1968, had at least identified the country’s press as ‘white press’ and called it as such at least four times in the report. While we refuse to accept this in the case of Indian media, which he said could easily be called hindu-male-upper-caste press. He then reminded everyone present, of the study carried out by Anil Chamadia, Yogendra Yadav, and Jitendra Kumar in 2006 that showed that Hindu upper caste men, who form only 8% of the country’s population, hold 71% of the top jobs in national media. While casteism permeates newsrooms in subtle manners- as the case of Nagaraju shows- he expressed surprise at the fact that despite their major readership coming from avarna readers, newspapers continue to write strongly against reservation. “What good are journalists if they don’t speak up during incidents like Babri Masjid, Mandal agitation and caste census?” he asked. To add to that, one might ask why the Cobrapost documentary, on the massacre of Dalits in Bihar, has failed to make it to regular front page news and prime time television despite elections being due in the state.
This representation is important because there are experiences that are specific to Dalits and Adivasis that a member of the upper caste can hardly relate to. Is it surprising that a debate on reservation among upper castes starts with complete amnesia about the Poona Pact and ignorance of regular reports of SC/ST students being denied RTE, being segregated in schools, being beaten up for clearing IIT-JEE? Bhasha Singh, another journalist on the panel, narrated that in a recent meeting with Soni Sori, Sori told her that although a lot has been written about her, she doesn’t hear her voice in those stories. While Paranjoy Guha urged everyone to use everyday technology and smartphones to report stories that the mainstream ignores, Singh was of the opinion that the mainstream needs to be targeted to alter the discourse in the nation. What Singh says surmises that change can’t come only by using alternative methodology, it needs to come by dismantling the hegemony of the mainstream as well.
Satyendra Murli, a journalist from Doordarshan, also highlighted that government owned media weren’t immune to discrimination either, despite constitutional provisions. It is on these lines that a charter of demands was presented by the panel members. In specific, these demands from the state, the media, and civil society organisations are aimed at ending discrimination in the media. The organisers also announced an annual award for Dalit and Adivasi journalists. As Paul Divakar noted in the meeting, “While media is not part of the state, it is akin to state“, and it must, therefore, be held accountable too.