Ambedkar’s journalism and its significance today

It is clear that until every section of society does not get due representation in the media, the one-sided, solicitous and unbalanced dissemination of information will continue. It was to counter this imbalance that Ambedkar wanted Dalits to have their own media outlets. He believed that only Dalit journalism could battle injustice faced by Dalits

 

The masthead of one of the issues of ‘Mooknayak’

Dr B. R. Ambedkar was convinced that if Dalits were to be awakened and empowered, they needed to have publications of their own. It was with this objective in mind that he began publishing Marathi fortnightly Mooknayak on 31 January 1920. “Mooknayak” means the hero of the voiceless. Explaining the logic behind its publication, Ambedkar wrote in the editorial of Mooknayak’s inaugural issue, “There is no better source than the newspaper to suggest the remedy against the injustice that is being done to our people in the present and will be done in the future, and also to discuss the ways and means for our progress in the future.” In the same editorial, he wrote, “The Hindu society is just like a tower which has several stories without a ladder or entrance. The man who is born in the lower storey cannot enter the upper story however worthy he may be and the man who is born in the upper storey cannot be driven out into the lower storey however unworthy he may be … The alienation produced by the absence of inter-dining and inter-caste marriages has fostered the feelings of touchables and untouchables so much that these touchable and untouchable castes, though a part of Hindu society, are in reality living in worlds apart.”

What Ambedkar wrote 97 years ago remains a bitter truth even today. As an institution, the media is seething with casteist biases, and because Savarnas dominate its upper echelons, the media ends up ignoring news related to injustice. The social background of media personnel has profound bearing on the selection and presentation of news. It is clear that until every section of society does not get due representation in the media, the one-sided, solicitous and unbalanced dissemination of information will continue. It was to counter this imbalance that Ambedkar wanted Dalits to have their own media outlets. He believed that only Dalit journalism could battle injustice faced by Dalits.

Dr B.R. Ambedkar

Ambedkar himself was quite vocal on this issue. In the issue dated 14 August 1920 of Mooknayak, he wrote, “Dogs and cats eat the leftovers of the Untouchables; they also eat the faeces of children. When these dogs and cats enter the homes of the touchables, these animals do not pollute them. They touch these animals, they hug them. Even if these animals put their mouth into their plates, the touchables have no objection. But if an Untouchable comes to their home for some work and stands outside, the house owner shouts at him, “Keep away, the ‘khapda’ [earthen tile] for dumping the excrement of the child is kept there. Now, you will touch that, too?” These heart-rending lines hold up a mirror to Indian society even now.

Ambedkar advocated due representation to the Dalits not only in the media but in all walks of life. In the editorial titled “This is not self-rule but rule over us” in the third issue of Mooknayak dated 28 February 1920, Ambedkar clearly said that if Swaraj materialized, Dalits should have a share in it. Ambedkar continued to reflect on Swaraj. The title of the editorial of the fifth issue of Mooknayak dated 27 March 1920 was “Our ascent to Swaraj, its evidence and its method”. Ambedkar had raised the following points in this particular editorial:

(1) The future Indian state would not be authoritarian or republican but would be ruled by the people’s representatives. As such, for Swaraj it is essential to expand the right to vote and give caste-wise representation.

(2) In the Hindu religion, some castes have been designated as higher and supreme and some lower and polluting. The people of lower castes lacking self-respect consider the upper castes worthy of being worshipped while the immoral members of upper castes consider the lower castes wretched.

(3) The voters of upper caste would not vote for a Dalit candidate considering him lower but the non-Brahmins and outcastes would rush to fall at the feet of Brahmin candidates, taking it to be a golden opportunity for serving the Brahmins.

(4) In case universal franchise is adopted, the electoral system should ensure caste-wise representation based on the proportion of each caste in the population.

(5) If Swaraj is ushered in, all castes should share in the self-governance so that Swaraj does not become Brahmin Raj.

In all, Ambedkar wrote some 40 articles for Mooknayak, including a dozen editorials in its initial issues. All of them railed against casteist inequality. Mooknayak ceased publication in April 1923 due to a dispute between Ambedkar and it second editor Dhruvnath Gholap. Four years later, on 3 April 1927, Ambedkar launched his second Marathi fortnightly, Bahishkrit Bharat, which remained in publication till 1929. Babasaheb was well aware of the weaknesses of the Untouchables and did not fight shy of criticizing them. In the editorial of the second issue of Bahishkrit Bharat dated 22 April 1927, he wrote: “The conduct and thoughts won’t become pure, the seeds of awakening and progress would never sprout in the untouchable community. Nothing can sprout from the present rocky, barren state of mind. So, to become cultured, one should take to reading and writing.” Besides emphasizing the need for critical reasoning, Ambedkar had also vociferously raised the issue of reservations for Dalits. In the editorial of the fourth issue of Bahishkrit Bharat dated 20 May 1927, Ambedkar wrote that progressives do not have a problem in accepting the fact that to take the backward classes forward, the latter should get priority in government jobs, but if the issue of God of wealth, Kuber, distributing his wealth equally to all comes up, even the progressives will gape in disbelief that an Ati-Shudra caste too gets his share.

Ambedkar and the newspapers and magazines he founded

Writing in the fifth issue of Bahishkrit Bharat dated 3 June 1927, Ambedkar, in the column “Aajkal Ke Prashna”, reacted strongly to the discrimination against Indian students in Edinburgh. He said, “Those who go to England to study are sons of the rich. For them, studies are just play and there is no reason to have excessive sympathy for them. Who will be worried about complaints of caste discrimination made by those who live off caste discrimination? They are themselves so steeped in caste discrimination that the Untouchables have no place in any establishment of the touchables.” Ambedkar wrote an editorial titled “Mahars and their country” in four parts in Bahishkrit Bharat. The title of the editorial of Bahishkrit Bharat dated 23 December 1927 is “Basis of progress of Untouchables”. In short, Babasaheb’s journalism was devoted to the struggle for the growth of Untouchables.

In 1928, Ambedkar brought out another fortnightly called Samta. Its name was changed to Janata later and again in 1954, it was rechristened Prabuddha Bharat. By then, it had become a weekly. All of its issues carried the line “Founded by Dr Ambedkar” below the masthead. Below the word “Saptahik” was printed “Buddham sharnam gachchami, Dhammam sharnam gachchami, Sangham sharnam gachchami.”

The incisive editorial comments of Ambedkar in Mooknayak, Bahishkrit Bharat and Samta can be seen as symbolic of his confrontation with the Indian social system. Ambedkar was not content being a neutral observer. He was an interventionist who wanted to alter the status quo. While he intensively probed the anomalies of religion and caste and varna system, he also closely scrutinized the social system in which they operated. That is why his evaluation of the caste-varna system is so accurate and credible. It is valuable because it takes into consideration the entire ambience in which the caste system works and raises all pertinent issues. Ambedkar’s writings are as relevant and inspiring today as they were in his times. Ambedkar’s journalism teaches us that we should honestly strive to make society aware of the exploitative nature of the caste, varna, class, gender and regional divisions and try to free it from the biases they generate. Simultaneously, we should also sensitize society about Dalit issues as the likes of Forward Press, Budhan, Samyak Bharat, Dalit Dastak, Adivasi Satta and Yuddharat Aam Aadmi are doing today.

The credit for introducing the concept of Dalit literature in Hindi goes to Rajendra Yadav, just as the credit for laying the foundation of Chayavaad in Hindi poetry goes to Indu (1909). Madhuri (1921) popularized Chayavaad. Similarly, Nayi Kavita (editors Jagdish Gupta, Ramswaroop Chaturvedi and Vijaydevnarayan Sahi), published in 1954, is credited with playing the key role in the development of the Nayi Kavita movement. The credit for the birth of the Nayi Kahani movement goes to magazines Kahani and Nayi Kahani and of Samanantar Kahani to Sarika. Along the same lines, it is Rajendra Yadav who deserves the credit for bringing women’s discourse centre stage. He began editing Hans in 1986 and many a Dalit writer got a name by publishing in it. After Hans, if any magazine systematically and extensively expounded the concept of Bahujan, it is Forward Press.

Forward Press began publication from New Delhi in 2009. This bilingual magazine, based on the ideology of Phule and Ambedkar, continued to be published in print until June 2016, when it went online. The print magazine was very popular among Bahujans. It provided a common platform to the intellectuals of different Indian languages who stood for social justice.

With editor-in-chief Ivan Kostka and editor Pramod Ranjan at its helm, Forward Press played a seminal role in developing the “theoretical framework of OBC discourse” from the perspectives of sociology and political science and in developing the concept of OBC literature.

Like Forward Press, Justice News has also launched its website. In 2007, a group of Dalit intellectuals, senior journalists and social activists set up the People’s Media Advocacy and Research Centre and launched the online edition of Dalit Media Watch. Now, it has been renamed Justice News. Its bulletin extensively covers atrocities against Dalits all over the country. The sources are different newspapers and credible information collected by the centre. This bulletin is issued daily in English and Hindi and is read by lakhs of readers in India and abroad. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and the National Human Rights Commission, besides state governments, have been taking note of the news updates of the bulletins.

Needless to say, these Bahujan publications have refused to ignore the despicable things that have been happening in India. They are aware of their duty to resist a trend that is destroying human sensibilities.


Forward Press also publishes books on Bahujan issues. Forward Press Books sheds light on the widespread problems as well as the finer aspects of Bahujan (Dalit, OBC, Adivasi, Nomadic, Pasmanda) society, literature, culture and politics. Next on the publication schedule is a book on Dr Ambedkar’s multifaceted personality. To book a copy in advance, contact The Marginalised Prakashan, IGNOU Road, Delhi. Mobile: +919968527911.

For more information on Forward Press Books, write to us: info@forwardmagazine.in

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