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Does Speaking About Caste Discrimination Amount To Defamation? Chat With Dalit Camera

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On December 13, the court of the fourth Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate at Hyderabad convicted four research scholars of English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad, and a B.A. (German) student of the varsity in a case of defamation.

According to the judgment, Dr. Meenakshi Reddy, Professor and Dean at School of Germanic Studies at EFLU, had accused Munavath Sriramulu, a student of the German department, of filing a false SC/ST atrocities case against her after he failed in his examinations. She had made a complaint against representations made by the student to government agencies and posters put up on campus accusing her of caste discrimination. She had also complained against interviews given by five students to Dalit Camera, a Youtube channel, in which the students called her casteist and feudal.

The court found only the interviews uploaded on Youtube to be defamatory and convicted all five students of defamation.

Ravichandran Bathran, who uploaded the interviews on Youtube, is the founder of Dalit Camera. Bathran talked at length with YKA on December 15 about the judgment. Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:

On how the videos in question came about:

Everyone who complained about caste discrimination would mostly drop the complaint midway because of pressure, family, because as a student, if I complain against my department, I cannot survive in the department.

Sriramulu was one person who also complained to us. We said, ‘Okay. Fine. What will we do? You will complain now and then leave the case’. But for 6 to 7 months continuously, he wrote complaints to the human rights (commission) and he wrote complaints to the Vice Chancellor too and he was still a student, at least registered.

So I said ‘Okay, Sriramulu I can’t do anything but I have this Dalit Camera. Why don’t you just speak about your caste discrimination? Whatever you have to say, you say, and I will upload it’.

Sriramulu was fighting a faculty who was very prominent, a teacher who has a background history of the father being a governor. So I would say the support was also not that great. My video we uploaded on Dalit Camera and we left it.

Then people started discussing. And Sriramulu was a person with command over language. The video had created an impression (on people) like Rohith Vemula’s suicide letter (did), (the impression) that how good his English was. The same thing happened with this video too. Everybody started going back and thinking about caste discrimination. You have education, you have good knowledge but people don’t let you study.

The Laws of defamation require allegations have to be true and have to be made in good faith, so that the court understands that the allegation has been made only after “paying due care and attention”. Did Bathran verify the facts and was he aware of the ways defamation laws work?

The video didn’t defame her on anything personal. We didn’t do anything other than question her caste(ist) attitude. It is like when women call men sexist and men cannot go and say it is defamation.

Even the Indian government recognises that caste discrimination is rampant in India. That is why Prevention of SC/ST Atrocities Act is there. The SC/ST Atrocities Act cannot be defamation. So I don’t understand the one part.

And I was the President, Secretary of different organisations and I was the elected (students’) body’s President twice. Mohan Daravath was the DABMSA (Dalit Adivasi Bahujan Minority Students Association) President. Students go and complain (to the organisations). Sriramulu was an Adivasi and he wrote a complaint. You have to take up that issue, right? It is not like random people picked it up. What other eligibility criteria does one need to talk about rights?

Whether he was aware how laws of defamation work at the time the videos were being made:

One thing is that it’s not about the legal point. We only think from the victim’s or (from the perspective) of the person-who-speaks and respect his feelings. So it’s not that he is going underground. So when he knows the video is to go public, he knows the consequences. And by consequences I mean to say that his facts will be verified, crosschecked, and I am also not hiding and taking it. I am also saying openly let’s talk on the video. If you want to discuss, let us discuss it.

On dismissal of some documents produced as evidence on technical grounds:

We are students. We have to prove through RTI what has happened. But what happened was that many of our RTI applications were not accepted in court.

But anyway, I wanted to articulate that she is not just an individual. She was the Head of the Department and she was also the Dean of Foreign Languages. That’s the thing we wanted to prove.

Court language is also so rude to us. And we don’t have that kind of a financial backing or even community backing to fight the judicial language. And you have to remember this: higher judiciary is one thing which is away from reservation.

On Dalit Camera’s future as a platform if required to cross-check before uploading videos:

It is not necessary for me to cross-check whether it is right or wrong unless and until you do a story on something like writing. The people who watch the video have to cross-check.

And I also feel that we’ll continue our work. I don’t think anything has to do with the larger work of what we are doing. This is the only channel in India which is run by Dalits and many caste-Hindus also work with Dalit camera.

Secondly, we also do not have any corporation or any funding. So in that way we are also standing completely against what is happening at the contemporary level and that too on Youtube. Usually like Youth Ki Awaaz or even this Countercurrents, websites like The Wire, or Scroll, or The Hoot- these websites get attention, not Youtube channels. So maybe we do sense a beginning. What is surprising is people don’t look at this as even a limit of freedom of expression.

You see in this country what all these political parties do. They challenge. All atrocity happens, they say ‘You chamar, I will kill you, I will burn you, I will rape you’. That’s not defamation at all.

Featured image source: Youtube and Wikimedia Commons

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