How to define Dalit journalism? There can be three possible definitions. First, journalism for Dalits; second, Dalit journalists and third, Dalit journalists for Dalits. Dalit journalism should be understood as journalism for the country and democracy. Many attempts have been made in the past to create a structure for Dalit media. BSP founder Kanshi Ram realized how important the media was for the success of his campaign and that was why he started the publication of several newspapers. Dr Ambedkar had also realized this. But the word “Dalit” was not part of the title of any newspaper brought out by either Ambedkar or Kanshi Ram. Kanshi Ram named his newspaper The Oppressed Indian and there were other newspapers with similar names. Mahatma Gandhi, of course, named his newspaper Harijan because he was striving to strike a balance between parliamentary power and the Varna system.
These examples are meant just to advance the discussion and to avoid unnecessary dilation. There are basic differences between building a vote base for parliamentary politics and the quest for a continuity of an ideological and cultural movement. We must try and find the common factor that causes the campaigns for sociopolitical and economic changes, through parliamentary government or through an ideological and cultural struggle, to stagnate or lose direction. Assessing the contribution and role of Jotiba Phule, Periyar and Dr Ambedkar separately can help in this endeavour, so can a study of the different approaches of Babu Jagjivan Ram and Ambedkar in bringing about social change using parliamentary politics as a tool.
This will help us understand why the creation of a structure in the media that would help fulfil the objectives and commitments of the Constitution was ignored and instead the emphasis was laid on serving the short-term needs or interests. In the editorial of the September 1980 issue of The Oppressed Indian Kanshi Ram says that Babu Jagjivan Ram had extended financial help to the editors of Jai Bheem, Nirnayak Bheem and Bheem Patrika to build his image because the Hindu, casteist press was ignoring him. Here, it is important to note that while The Oppressed Indian emphasized ideology and principles, Jai Bheem only served the immediate needs of Jagjivan Ram.
Kanshi Ram writes in this editorial that Babu Jagjivan Ram was never in agreement with Dr Ambedkar’s concept of religious conversions because he was not sure about the origin of the Dalits. Jagjivan Ram had asked the editors of the magazines of Dalit communities to launch a research to unravel the origin of the untouchables. He also felt the need for Jai Bheem as the Hindu, casteist press was ignoring him.
It is apparent why no attempts were made to build a structure for the media that would serve national interests and strengthen democracy. A.R. Akela has compiled the editorials of The Oppressed Indian. (Earlier, he had brought out several collections of the speeches of Kanshi Ram. He has the ambitious plan of publishing a compilation of all the writings and speeches of Kanshi Ram.) Going through these editorials, one gets to know how the building of a structure for the media to bring about fundamental changes was sacrificed for the sake of immediate gains. Merely labelling the press “Bania-Brahmin”, “casteist” and “anti-Dalit” will not help build a structure for the media that would strengthen the nation and democracy. Political parties need a social base and for them caste can be an important factor, but building a structure for the media requires a dynamic ideological concept. The Bahujan community needs to understand how a communication structure can perpetuate casteism and its hold on society. This communication structure includes daily newspapers, agencies that spew news the whole day, and TV channels that keep on screaming round the clock. They have succeeded in confining the lives of the members of the Bahujan community to a narrow circle. Their vision is blinkered and their concerns hardly go beyond bread-and-butter issues.
The dominant castes of Indian society have a well-oiled and systematic communications structure. That is why, despite all sorts of societal changes, their domination continues. But the Bahujan communities, which are victims of exploitation, oppression and inequalities, are bound to a specific structure. There is only one type of journalism in this structure – the one that keeps on parroting the tales of their exploitation and oppression and the inequalities they are subjected to. But this journalism limits their imagination and objectives to the parliament.
Just as a politician does everything possible to protect his parliamentary career, a cultural warrior keeps on forging new ideological tools to bring about fundamental changes. This difference can be understood with the following example. Kanshi Ram writes in the editorial of July 1979 issue, “One aspect of the riots was that there was an attempt to pit the Muslims against SCs and Backwards. In Aligarh, an attempt was made to engineer a clash between Jatavs (Chamars) and Muslims. In Jamshedpur, STs were provoked to attack Muslims, and in Nadia district, goons of backward classes clashed with Muslims.” Kanshi Ram’s ideological vision is clear. But for fulfilling his parliamentary needs, he was forced to form a government in association with the parliamentary wing of the RSS – the organization which he saw play a key role in the riots.
Published in the July 2015 issue of the FORWARD Press magazine