In the initial days of my journalistic career, by way of an experiment, I dispatched an article, one by one, to all the mainstream newspapers and magazines as also to journals popular among the intelligentsia. The title of the article was “Dalits should get arms for self-defence”. The then Bihar Chief Minister Karpoori Thakur had announced a programme under which Dalits were to be provided firearms, training to use them and gun licences – all free of cost. When Jagannath Mishra became the chief minister again, he withdrew the scheme. This, when during his earlier regime, Mishra had directed the officers through All India Radio to
distribute gun licenses to farmers by going from door to door.
In India, the upper caste-dominated system has built its own dictionary in which every word seems to mean something else but actually addresses caste. ‘Kisan’ (farmer) is one such word. After Jagannath Mishra, successive governments, up to Bindeshwari Dubey’s, gave their approval to programmes to train the feudal farmers in the use of weapons. In my article, describing all this, I argued that the Dalits, Tribals and Backwards were the most vulnerable and insecure sections of society. Why then should they not get the right to defend themselves? The newspapers thought I was advocating violence. My contention was that how can marshalling arguments in favour of the government giving arms to these sections be equated with supporting violence. After all, why did anyone not raise the demand that no citizen of the country should be allowed to own firearms.
The English newspapers, it is generally believed, are progressive and modern. But my experience is that basically English newspapers and magazines are also status quoists. Editors of prestigious liberal magazines like Economic and Political Weekly and Seminar promised that my article would be carried but it never was. There is a need for a study of not only what was published about Dalits, Backwards and Tribals but also what was not published. Every subject is multi-layered and multi-dimensional. The news about atrocities on Dalits is not news of Dalits because atrocities on dalits are being committed for centuries. It is the news of the assailants. A study on the masks those working in the Fourth Estate wear can help make society more aware.
Be that as it may, in my thirty-year-long journalistic career, the list of unpublished news items about the oppressed sections of the Indian society has only got longer and the reasons behind it have only become clearer. I want to quote three recent examples, which, unlike the earlier one, cannot be dismissed in the name of advocating violence. In the background of these three examples is a study of the social backgrounds of the ten top editorial functionaries each of national newspapers, magazines and television channels, undertaken by the Media Studies Group in association with Yogendra Yadav. We had to face a lot of problems in publicizing the results of the study. It was owing to Yogendra Yadav’s personal influence that a channel and a newspaper promised to carry the news. As for news agencies, things were even more difficult because the structure of the news agencies is such that they have a built-in pro-dominant sections bias. After two days of hectic efforts, a news agency ran the story. This agency is now on its death bed. The other one, which is dominating the market, spiked the story.
The same was the experience regarding news based on a study of photographs of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in the offices of the Ministers of Delhi government. The study was done by my brother, when he was working for The Statesman using the Right to Information. This news could not find a place anywhere. The second example relates to programmes produced by Lok Sabha television on Babu Jagjivan Ram. Someone used the RTI to ferret out the information that the Lok Sabha TV had produced six short documentaries on Babu Jagjivanram. This news was widely published. I wrote a comment on the bias inherent in the news but my comment was discarded by every single publication. The news that was published was targeted at Jagjivan Ram. What was being conveyed was that Lok Sabha TV had developed a sudden love for Jagjivan Ram because his daughter Meira Kumar was the Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Though the news, apparently, was about films on Jagjivan Ram but in reality it sought to oppose the production of these films.
I wish to present one more example to support my analysis. There is no reservation for Dalits, Tribals and Backwards in Lok Sabha Television. When I gave this news, based on information obtained under RTI, it could not get space in most publications. It was subsequently carried by an English newspaper but that was only because of personal friendship.
The third example is of a study undertaken by Media Studies Group on the social background of the experts taking part in programmes of Akashvani. It amply demonstrated how far Akashvani was working to meet the objectives of Prasar Bharati. The study gave an account of the number and subjects of programmes on Backwards, Dalits, Tribals, workers, ruralites and women. The study revealed many a sordid fact. But nothing based on the study was published; one of the reasons being that Akashvani is a major subscriber of news agencies’ services. The study was not aimed at supporting the demand for more representation to Dalits, Tribals and Backwards. It simply brought into focus the wide chasm between the declared objectives of Prasar Bharati and its actual conduct. But those wearing casteist glasses could only see Dalits, Tribals and Backwards in the story. Actually, the problem is that those who undertake such studies are branded as castiest while those who are upholders of upper caste dominance are described as anything but castiest. They are seen as pluralists, nationalists, democrats, socialists and as progressive, civil, mild-mannered and
soft-talker votaries of non-violence.
Published in the February 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine
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