‘Praja Vani’ special issue guest-edited by a Dalit

14 April 2012

Many Indian newspapers now invite a “Guest Editor” to create some buzz.

Usually the guest is a boldfaced name: a cricketer (Yuvraj Singh), a godman (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar),  a businessman (N.R. Narayana Murthy), a news maker (Amartya Sen) or a celebrity.

Take a bow, Praja Vani.

On the birth anniversary of the father of the Indian Constitution, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, the Kannada newspaper from the Bangalore-based Deccan Herald group has brought out a special issue, guest-edited by the Dalit writer and social activist, Devanur Mahadeva.

Eight broadsheet pages of the 16-page main edition—plus seven out of eight pages in two four-page broadsheet supplements—have pieces commissioned by the guest editor.

In all, there are 37 pieces of text, led by an introduction from the paper’s editor, K.N. Shanth Kumar.

Each of the pages carrying the pieces has a common panel that reads “Swatantra, Samanathe, Sodarathe” (freedom, equality, fraternity) and each article carrying the piece has an icon of Ambedkar.

Among the articles, a business page report on India’s first Dalit bank; a metro section story on why Bollywood ignores Ambedkar; and an edit page piece on the need for social police.

Robin Jeffrey, whose lament on the lack of diversity in Indian (read English) newsrooms, prompted the experiment would be pleasantly surprised at the spunk of a leading regional-language newspaper.

Image: courtesy Praja Vani

Also read: 6 pages for Ambedkar; 393 pages for ‘The Family’

Anybody here Dalit and speaks English?

Is Vijaya Karnataka ready for a Dalit editor?

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7 Responses to “‘Praja Vani’ special issue guest-edited by a Dalit”

  1. Dasu Krishnamoorty Says:

    You have described B.R.Ambedkar as the Father of the Indian Constitution. Others have called him the architect of the rambling document. Ambedkar was the chairman of the drafting committee which was one of the 18 committees involved in architecting the constitution. Drafting committee simply translates the intentions of the Constituent Assembly into a national document. It is simply ridiculous to say Ambedkar is the father (he served the British Viceroy on his Executive Council when the British were massacring freedom fighters) when there were legal luminaries like Jawaharlal Nehr\u, K.N.Katju, Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyangar, Shyam Prasad Mukherjee, Dr. Rajendta Prasad and others who matched the intellectual level of Ambedkar. When do we stop telling lies? Just see the names of the members of the Constituent Assembly and tell me if all of them were just attending the assembly sessions with dropped jaws while Ambedkar was single-handedly fashioning the document that later needed 100 amendments. Read the debates to know the contribution of a large number of patriots in writing the Constitution.

    Krishnamoorty

  2. VOXINDICA Says:

    While a committee is known by the name of its chairman, the Indian Constitution drafting committee has become somewhat a holy cow. As Mr. Dasu Krishnamoorty rightly pointed out, although Dr. B. R. Ambedkar headed it, the committee had seven other luminaries including Dr. K. M. Munshi as members. The committee took the (British) Government of India Act of 1935 as the basis and incorporated elements from the American, British, Swiss and other constitutions into it. Each and every clause was debated in the Constituent Assembly (1947-52) and the draft was finally adapted on November 26, 1949.

    The surprising thing was, the Constitution for which so many wise men toiled day and night required an amendment within barely fifteen months. Jawaharlal Nehru introduced it in the Constituent Assembly and (again) Babasaheb Ambedkar defended it. The first amendment was written into the Constitution on June 18, 1951. Its objective: ‘to place reasonable restrictions of freedom of speech and expression’ among other things! Ever since then we have amended our Constitution 108 times in sixty years. So much for the vision of great men!

    In contrast the Americans have amended their Constitution less than thirty times in over two hundred years. And their first amendment strengthened ‘freedom of expression’, not curtailed it.


  3. Vox Indica referred to the first amendment which was an attack on the Indian press. Here is a detailed account of what happened as a result of Nehru-Ambedkar collaboration:

    We remember Jawaharlal Nehru for several reasons. We remember the great institutions and infrastructures he had built – the science labs, the IITs, space and atomic energy establishments, the Akademis, the river dams, to cite a few. His press policy was, however, an enigma because it benefited as well as hurt the press. On the credit side were measures like the wage boards for journalists, the press commission etc. But the very first decision he took on freedom of expression took away the shine from the good he did for the press.

    Journalists of the Nehru era knew of the times when he had bypassed norms both of democracy and free press because he thought they came in the way of building an India of his dreams. “It is dishonest to hail him as a democrat without reckoning with his lapses from democratic norms; a champion of press, he also placed curbs on the press”, wrote eminent jurist A. G. Noorani reviewing Nehru’s works in Frontline (25 September, 2004).

    In the very first year of the Indian Republic’s anniversary, Nehru became impatient enough with the press and the judiciary to propose the first amendment to the Constitution that would have proved the Damocles’ sword over the head of the press if it were passed according to its original draft that sought to impose curbs on free expression that need not necessarily be reasonable.

    In a statement (20 May 1951) on the objects and reasons for the first amendment, he said, “During the last fifteen months of the working of the Constitution, certain difficulties have been brought to light by judicial decisions and pronouncements specially in regard to the chapter on fundamental rights. The citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by article 19(1)(a) has been held by some courts to be so comprehensive as not to render a person culpable even if he advocates murder and other crimes of violence.” Nehru also thought dilatory litigation held up his land reform programmes.

    In a lengthy paper submitted to the Alternative Law Forum, its founder Lawrence Liang provided details of what had so upset Nehru that he needed to amend the Constitution. Two Supreme Court decisions coming on the same day, Romesh Thapar vs. State of Madras and Brijbhushan vs. State of Bihar, rattled Nehru who resented the decisions as hurdles in the way of social change.

    In the Thapar case, the Government of Madras, which had already banned the Communist Party, prohibited in March 1951 Crossroads, a progressive weekly edited by Romesh Thapar, very critical of a number of the policies of the Nehru government, from entering or circulating in the state. On appeal by Thapar, the Supreme Court held that the ban was ultra vires of Art. 19 (1) (a) because provisions in the Madras law sanctioning the ban were not covered by exceptions as mentioned in Art. 19 (2). The Madras government ban was imposed on grounds of public safety/public order, words which did not find mention at that time as grounds for curbing freedom of expression. So, the apex court held that the ban had offended Art. 19 (1) (a).

    In the second case which was a case of prior restraint, the Chief Commissioner of Delhi passed an order against the Organizer, mouthpiece of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, under the East Punjab Public Safety Act, directing the newspaper to submit for scrutiny before publication all articles, news, cartoons, analyses and pictures relating to communal issues or Pakistan for printing inflammatory materials with respect to the partition. On appeal, the Supreme Court declared that section 7 (1) (c) of the Punjab Act under which the order was passed was unconstitutional because the restrictions imposed were outside the purview of Article 19 (2) as it then stood, which did not include public order as a permissible head of restriction. Common to both the decisions was the reference to the absence of public order in Art.19(2).

    These two decisions and their endorsement by the press sparked the first constitutional crisis of the young Republic. Home Minister Sardar Patel thought that the Crossroads decision “knocked the bottom of most of our penal laws for the control and regulation of the press”. Nehru was not happy either and wrote to Law Minister B. R. Ambedkar “expressing the view that the Constitution’s provisions pertaining to law and order and subversive activities needed to be amended. Reflecting the difficulties the government was having with the courts over the fundamental rights, Nehru added that the provision affecting zamindari abolition and nationalization of road transport also needed to be amended”. He also set up a Cabinet Committee to examine the amendment. The Home Ministry recommended to the Cabinet Committee that ‘public order’ and ‘incitement to a crime’ be included among the exceptions to the right of freedom of speech.

    The Law Ministry felt that the word reasonable as it appeared in Art. 19 should be retained and even added to Art.19(2). The Cabinet Committee, however, strongly disagreed with Ambedkar and felt that while it was reasonable to retain the word reasonable in the other provisions in Art. 19, restrictions on freedom of speech and expression should not be qualified in any manner. Nehru too argued that the proposed restrictions on free speech did not have to be reasonable.

    So, the draft amendment without the word reasonable and with addition of public order was introduced in Parliament on 12 May 1951. Nehru defended the amendment stating that it fulfilled the need of the hour. He also tried to support the amendment by referring to the statement of a judge (Justice Sarjoo Prasad) in a Patna High Court case. He said, “It was an extraordinary state of affairs that a high court had held that even murder or like offences can be preached.” In a case that came up before him, Justice Sarjoo Prasad had said that “if a person were to go on inciting murder or other cognizable offences either through the press or by word of mouth, he would be free to do so with impunity, because he could claim freedom of speech and expression”.

    But in the face of fierce opposition, the government agreed to include the word reasonable to qualify the restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. In a letter to T. T. Krishnamachari, Nehru said he did not like the word reasonable because the word was ambiguous and would permit the courts to put their own gloss on whether a particular Act was reasonable or not. The Cabinet accepted the recommendation in order to avoid a split and ensure two-thirds majority. Parliament passed the bill on 1 June 1951. The All India Newspaper Editors’ Conference condemned the amendment and asked newspapers all over the country to suspend publication for a day to indicate protest. Thus was born the very first amendment to the Constitution. The Press (Objectionable Matter) Act too came in the same year.

    Noorani quotes a more damaging excerpt (reproduced below) from the book he was reviewing for Frontline that showed Nehru in poor light in an interview to American journalist Michael Brecher:

    Nehru: Again criticism was made about our dealing with the press here. You may have seen the press here. I don’t know if you have seen the worst part of the press, in Hindi and Urdu and these languages?

    Brecher: No, I am afraid not.

    Nehru: Terrible, something terrible and we found it did little good. We put an end to it.

    Brecher: That gave rise to the Press Objectionable Matters Act?

    Nehru: Yes, some say we are suppressing the press. It is absurd. You see the press here, how it functions.

    There was also this story about how civil servant A. D. Gorwala’s column in The Times of India written under the pseudonym “Vivek” was discontinued at Nehru’s insistence for it was too critical of him. The dismissal of the democratically elected Namboodiripad government and defence of measures like preventive detentions do raise uncomfortable questions about Jawaharlal Nehru’s governance. But nobody can be an unmixed blessing all the time.

  4. Krishna Kumar Says:

    Dasu Krishnamoorty’s piece should have appeared as a post, not as a comment.

  5. R Akhileshwari Says:

    Wow! This is a FIRST for any newspaper in India! And quite rightly, PV leads the way because it is the genuine leader, not those Johny-come-lately types, who are spurred not by its readers’ interests but its commercial interests. The next guest editor could be Ruth Vanita? Or a Dalit woman writer/activist/thinker?

    We need more of such activism/involvement with the people
    if the press is to live up to its role as Fourth Estate

    I wonder if the pieces, at least some of them like the need for social police, can be translated from Kannada to English for wider reach.

  6. Mysore Peshva Says:

    Dear Sri. Dasu Krishnamoorty: Your post is beautifully instructive, for which I thank you. Regardless of the performance of the press in their time, Nehru, Patel and Ambedkar come across as positivists rather than sages or savants who saw beyond their current challenges.

    So the early Indian republic was led by founders not all committed to a notional marketplace of ideas. Instead of teaching illiterate Indians to read and write and educating them in ways of science and logic so that worthy ideas could rise at the expense of unworthy ones, they chose to simply restrict what they perceived as unworthy expression. Their choice was not only relatively easy and singularly unwise, but also somewhat futile — it has evidently failed to muzzle the Indian press in any manner!

    I wonder why progressive Ambedkar, who had every reason to suspect the status quoist press, was less enthusiastic about the restrictions than Nehru. I can understand why meticulous Nehru saw the qualifier “reasonable” as vague, but I am not persuaded why he or Ambedkar sought the restrictions in the first place. Regardless, an absence of “reasonable” would have gutted Article 19.

  7. Jeevan Says:

    It is good. we appreciate Prajavani. but, 15 days back the same Prajavani covered B S Yadiyurappa’s 2 page Interview ! It just did not invite him as guest editor !


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