Posts Tagged ‘Dalits’

When a mainstream newspaper debates ‘caste’

23 January 2014

prajavani-jati-samvada-week-1-copy

Do caste experiences and untouchability really exist in India, particularly in urban and middle-class India?

The answer depends on who you ask although the usual newsroom tendency is to turn the nose away.

So, how do we find out beyond what we think we know?

In the first half of 2013, the mass-circulated Kannada newspaper Praja Vani, from the Bangalore-based Deccan Herald group, devoted its op-ed page to address the issue.

Christened Jathi Samvada, every Monday the op-ed page was anchored by two scholars: Prof Gopal Guru of the centre for political studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, and Prof Sundar Sarukkai of the Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities.

Every week, for 24 weeks, the professors wrote and edited articles on caste and posed questions on various themes for public responses. The two scholars report their findings in the latest issue of Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) and why they took up the project:

“One, we felt that there was a continued disconnect between academic writing on caste and society, and popular narratives around it.

“Reading news reports on caste or watching the news reportage on issues related to caste might make one believe that there has really been no serious intellectual reflection on the dynamics of caste.

“The public discourse on caste in these mediums ignores the rich sociological literature on this topic.

“An objective was to bring this sociological literature to the attention of the readers, thereby doing two things: one, expose the readers to these theories and empirical results which might then have some impact on the naïve beliefs about caste and, two, make the readers challenge these theories about caste from the perspective of their own caste experiences.”

For the record, on the birthday of the Constitution maker B.R. Ambedkar in April 2012, the entire issue of Praja Vani was guest-edited by the noted Dalit poet Devanoor Mahadeva.

Read the full article: Publicly talking about caste

Visit the Praja Vani archives: Jathi Samvada

Image: courtesy Barefoot Philosophers

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Also read: Loksatta‘s ad without SRK, MSD or AB

Anybody here who’s Dalit and speaks English?

6 pages for Ambedkar; 393 pages for the family

‘Our media only bothers about elite, middle-class’

Do we need quotas in the media?

Is Vijaya Karnataka ready for a Dalit editor?

‘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?

Anybody here who’s Dalit and speaks English?*

13 May 2010

The UPA government’s reported inclination to include an extra column in the 2011 census to enumerate caste, for the first time since 1931, has seen politicians and political parties close ranks, although the Union cabinet is said to have been divided on the issue.

But there has been an avalanche of criticism in the media. “A monumental travesty,” is one view in The Indian Express. “No sense in caste census,” declares the Financial Express. “Will it help reduce inequalities,” asks The Hindu. “No time to look behind,” is one view in The Telegraph.

On television, of course, it is as if the end is nigh upon us already, and they even quote the mighty Amitabh Bachchanthe son-in-law of a journalist—to bolster their view.

A similar dichotomy between the political class and the fourth estate greeted the implementation of the Mandal Commission report in 1989. And indeed when 27% reservation was announced for other backward classes in higher educational institutions in the first innings of the UPA government.

Could the media “disconnect” be because of the demographics of dominant sections of the Indian media, most of which are located in urban centres? Are there too many upper-caste, upper-class types and far too few of the other kind to understand and empathise with the logic, the dynamics, the imperative for a caste census or reservations?

In her Hindustan Times column, CNN-IBN senior editor Sagarika Ghose writes:

“In 1996 when B.N. Uniyal undertook a survey of national newspapers, he found that among 686 journalists accredited to the government, 454 were upper caste, the remaining 232 did not carry their caste names and in a random sample of 47, not a single one was a dalit.”

More recently, a 2006 survey of 300 senior journalists in 37 Hindi and English newspapers and TV stations found that “Hindu upper caste men”—who form eight per cent of the country’s population—hold 71 per cent of the top jobs in the national media.

“Dalits and Adivasis “are conspicuous by their absence among the decision- makers. Not even one of the 315 key decision-makers belonged to the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes.

“If men and women are taken together, the share of upper caste Hindus or dwijas in the upper echelons of the media is 85 per cent. These castes account for 16 per cent of the national population. Brahmins alone, the survey found, hold 49 per cent of the top jobs in national journalism.

“If non-dwija forward castes like Marathas, Patels, Jats and Reddys are added, the total forward caste share stands at 88 per cent.

“In contrast, OBCs, who are estimated to constitute around 40 per cent of the population, account for an “abysmally low” four per cent of top media jobs. In the English print media, OBCs account for just one per cent of top jobs and in the Hindi print media eight per cent.”

Read the full column: Caste off those blinkers

Photograph: the front page of Harijan, the weekly English newspaper published by Mahatma Gandhi

Also read: Why are they Tamils? Why are they all Brahmins?

Just 4% of population but 7 Brahmins in Indian team?

* with apologies to Edward Behr

ToI group editor in flap over honorary doctorate

11 February 2010

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Bennett, Coleman bossman Samir Jain, it is said, doesn’t like his editors becoming the news instead of quietly packaging it in the newsroom. A test of that famous kink comes in Bangalore, where the helmsman of The Times of India group’s Kannada daily has been hogging the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

On January 25, Vishweshwar Bhat, editor of the mass-circulation daily Vijaya Karnataka, was shortlisted for an honorary doctorate degree by his alma mater Karnatak University in Dharwad. ToI reported that Bhat’s name had been cleared by the governor of the State, H.R. Bharadwaj, who is also the chancellor of the University.

So far, so good.

But trouble first came from the local unit of the Berlin-based “coalition against corruption”, Transparency International. On February 5, the chairman of TI’s Karnataka chapter, the former high court judge M.F. Saldanha, shot off a letter to the University and to the governor questioning the choice of the journalist.

“…the person concerned has been primarily responsible for instigating and fuelling communal hatred by regularly publishing extremely volatile and offensive articles and editorials in his paper, all directed against the minorities, particularly the Christians and Muslims as also against Dalits,” read a section of Justice Saldanha’s letter to the University.

The following day, February 6, Vijaya Karnataka carried a brief news report stating that Bhat had decided to decline the University honour due to “personal reasons”.

Today, Deccan Chronicle, which competes with The Times of India in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Madras has front-paged a story claiming that the Governor has ordered an “inquiry” into the decision of the University to honour Bhat.

Bhat has been at the receiving end of protests by Dalits in recent weeks.

Late last year, the Bangalore police commissioner Shankar Bidari attributed a series of negative reports about the functioning of the city’s police in Vijaya Karnataka to his decision to turn down Bhat’s request for gunmen in view of a perceived “threat” to his life.

Letter: courtesy Flickr

Newspaper facsimiles: courtesy Deccan Chronicle and Vijaya Karnataka

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Also read: Is management responsible for content too?

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