By Prateek Gupta:
It isn’t every day that you get to see journalists howling like wolves on TV screens.
Okay, er… yes, you see it every day.
Let’s do this again.
Not every day that you get to see elite news panellists having serious discussions with sanitation workers on prime time slots. Ravish Kumar invited actual people who work as manual scavengers as panellists on his prime time show on NDTV.
The issue at hand was manual scavenging.
On August 6, three sanitation workers died while cleaning sewers. Within the last two months, seven people have lost their lives.
The issue of manual scavenging is nothing new, and every media house and political party is well aware of the same. But even the deaths and ailments of the poor workers fail to move them. Ravish Kumar, who is known to be a no-nonsense journalist began his prime time by saying, “Humara sheher kaun saaf karta hai hum iske baare mey bohot kam jaante hai (We know very little about those who clean our city)!”
The prime time addressed several issues, problems, and challenges these workers face while manually cleaning the sewers. Almost all of them have almost died while doing their jobs. Even though the use of machines has now been started, there is a serious lack of infrastructure and authoritative will.
Naresh, a sanitation worker, revealed that on average, a sanitation worker cleans 25 to 30 sewers a day. They land in the sewer holes without any protection on their bodies, such as gloves, or masks. He further stated that he has to clean all sorts of garbage with his hands, which causes serious infections and diseases.
In a country where sanitation workers are looked down upon and are treated like untouchables, Ravish Kumar called them into a well-lit news studio in South Delhi and addressed them with decency, as he does with any other panellist, whether rich or poor.
Delhi is classist, and so is any other city. We hardly converse with sewage cleaners or try to know their realities. Not to forget the extreme care and caution taken to avoid the minutest physical contact while handing out money to them.
Ravish has broken several psychological, social, and physical barriers by inviting them to the studio to have a discussion.
Whenever some issue is being talked about in the news, journalists invite experts and leaders to share an opinion on that topic. The expert may or may not have on-ground knowledge of the issue, he might only have knowledge gained from books or might defend the ideology he associates with.
But a sanitation worker puts facts before the moderator without mixing them with an opinion, because he has no opinion on the issue. He faces the issue and he wants it to be resolved.
Journalists should engage more in such activities – going beyond boundaries and breaking societal barriers. Not only will it help in gaining unbiased trust from the viewers, but also in making the world a better place to live in.
A version of this post was first published here.