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Blind to its own biases

When six films are produced on a Dalit leader, charges of bias are hurled freely. On the other hand, when the Lok Sabha speaker keeps mum on other kinds of biases, it is viewed as giving a free hand to the subordinates

I  wrote an article after some newspapers carried a news item saying that Lok Sabha TV would be producing six documentaries on Babu Jagjivan Ram. That would be six out of the 23 documentaries produced by Lok Sabha TV since June 2009, the reports added.

It seemed as if the newspapers were linking the election of Jagjivan Ram’s daughter Meira Kumar as speaker of Lok Sabha (in June 2009) with the documentaries on the late leader.

For the article RTI was used to obtain information on the number of films produced on Jagjivan Ram. It is clear that this information can be analyzed from many different angles. Can six films on Jagjivan Ram be seen as an outcome of the biased attitude of the speaker? Going by the figure (six of 23 films), the answer would be yes. But then, how many documentaries on Jagjivan Ram have been produced by any agency other than the Lok Sabha TV? If we view the issue from this angle, we will arrive at a different conclusion. Besides Lok Sabha TV, hardly anyone has cared to produce a documentary on Jagjivan Ram.

What kind of bias is this? When Meira Kumar was the Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, she was instrumental in the establishment of Babu Jagjivan Ram Foundation on the lines of Dr Ambedkar Foundation. Can that also be branded as a biased act? While Dr Ambedkar is accorded a respectable place in history by the Indian political establishment, Jagjivan Ram is not.

Meira Kumar is the political heir of her father, so it can well be said that she represents Jagjivan Ram in parliamentary politics. And she can be blamed for the six films on her father. But then, instances of heirs of political families showing special favour to their forefathers are a dime a dozen. Of course, one is tempted to ask why Jagjivan Ram’s political philosophy and his contributions have met with indifference at various levels, even when he suited the needs of the present ruling party as a symbol of its love for the Dalits.

The Janata Party went into the 1977 General Elections projecting Babu Jagjivan Ram as its prime-ministerial candidate but when the party won a majority, he was overlooked. He had charged that he was not chosen for the top job as he was a Dalit. The miserable state of Samta Sthal, in comparison with Rajghat, Vijayghat and other memorials in Delhi to national leaders, is there for all to see.

In fact, the motives of those who sought the information on the documentary films are themselves suspect. Have these people ever tried to expose the social discrimination prevalent in India? There are many other aspects of the functioning of Lok Sabha TV that do not get space in the columns of newspapers. For instance, the representation of Dalits, Tribals and OBCs in Lok Sabha TV is next to nothing. None of those in decision-making positions belong to these communities. The Lok Sabha speaker has done nothing to correct this aberration despite being in the know. This information was also obtained through RTI. But such pieces of information, which concern the wider society, do not find a place in the media. Clearly, no one is bothered as to how the class character of the decision-making echelons of Lok Sabha TV is affecting the content being aired by i

Through RTI, the Media Studies Group sought to know the names of those who are invited to take part in Lok Sabha TV programmes. The information we received was startling. It revealed that only a particular coterie of journalists, bureaucrats and politicians was invited and all of them were paid for it. Why so? Is this some sort of sociopolitical bonding? This could have been a news report.

When six films are produced on a Dalit leader, charges of bias are hurled freely. On the other hand, when the Lok Sabha speaker keeps mum on other kinds of biases, it is viewed as giving a free hand to the subordinates. These biases are not limited to the tenure of Meira Kumar; if an assessment is made of the workings of Lok Sabha TV since its establishment, it would reveal many different kinds of biases. Many programmes were terminated and others launched to benefit a clique of favourites. While making recruitments, the criterion for judging an applicant’s suitability was always a well-kept secret. The key issue here is whether questions are being raised about a particular organization to save it from decay or are in keeping with one’s own biases.

Jagjivan Ram was one of the tallest Dalit leaders of North India. Unlike Dr Ambedkar, he did not work in an area with a history of social movements. In north India, the movement for social justice was subdued by many sociopolitical and cultural factors.

The making of a documentary film on an individual requires co-operation from various institutions, besides an active and dynamic group of supporters. Jagjjivan Ram belonged to a party where his ideological supporters will be hard to find. In the case of such leaders, it is natural for their well-wishers and family to work for preserving their memory. To accord Babuji his due place in history, the films produced on him should be screened on platforms other than Lok Sabha TV – as it is done in the case of other leaders.

With these questions and observations, I sent my article to many newspapers. Only one of them agreed to carry it, and informed me. Eventually, even this one backtracked; at the last moment, as an editor spiked the article. Then, I mailed it to many friends who proudly sport tags of socialists, progressives, anti-casteists, etc. But it could not find a place anywhere. And it was added to the long list of views which were not accommodated in the media because of the biased attitude of the media persons.

Published in the March 2014 issue of the Forward Press magazine

Forward Press also publishes books on Bahujan issues. Forward Press Books sheds light on the widespread problems as well as the finer aspects of the Bahujan (Dalit, OBC, Adivasi, Nomadic, Pasmanda) community’s literature, culture, society and culture. Contact us for a list of FP Books’ titles and to order. Mobile: +919968527911, Email: info@forwardmagazine.in)

About The Author

Anil Chamadia

Anil Chamadia is a senior Hindi journalist focusing on media analysis and research. He edits 'Jan Media' and 'Mass Media', which are Hindi and English journals, respectively, on media issues

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