Sunday, March 07, 2010

Media and Marginalization of Dalits

Dr. P. Kesava Kumar, Assistant Professor, Pondicherry University

Abstract
Dalits are marginalized in media from the very inception of the media, either in print or electronic media since majority of them are poor and illiterate. My paper makes an attempt to understand the marginalization of dalits in media in contemporary times by looking at the recent controversy of Andhrajyothy vs Dalit leadership. The write up titled as Baduga Netalu (May2008) in Andhrajyothy daily aims at demeaning dalit leadership for its own political purpose. The immediate attack of dalits on the office of the daily triggered a debate on freedom of press on one hand and on other democratic representation of the dalits in media. The paper will examine the complexity and context of the issue by focusing on marginalization of dalits in mainstream media in the times of neo liberalism. The very understanding of nexus between capital, media and hegemonic politics will help in theorizing the marginality of dalits in media rather than looking at media as an organ of democracy.

Baduga Netala or Baduga Ratala ?

The write up titled Baduga Netalu in telugu daily Andhrajyothy (May26, 2008) generated debate on attitude of media towards dalits. This news story is deliberately intended to target dalit leadership and their politics. It points out that dalit and backward caste organizations are sold out to ruling congress party for their selfish interests. Though it was not mentioned the names of the leaders, but easy to readers to mark the names of the leaders. The story depicts dalit leaders as corrupt, opportunistic and works against their own ideology. The language it used is highly objectionable and the allegations are baseless. In response to this, the Madiga Dandora activists are attacked the Andhrajyothy office for its alleged news story against their leader Krishna Madiga. The journalist organizations condemning this act as against the freedom of press by organizing demonstrations all over the state. The so called democratic organizations and progressive individuals supported the idea of freedom of press at the cost of condemning undemocratic attack of dalits against the office of the daily. This includes Ranganayakamma,K.Venugopal, Maharathi, Duddu Prabhakar of Kula Nirmulana Porata Samithi, Mallepalli Laxmaiah, Gaddar. Andrajyothy continued its attack on dalits with its special titles kalam pai jhulum and aksharayudham. Surprisingly, in the main stream media, there is no dissent on the way the news story written by Andhrajyothy. The only news paper Surya came in support of dalits by initiating column Bagugula Pidikili and some articles in edit page. This may be read it as the Surya is owned by Backward caste leader and had his own political aspirations. Moreover at that movement he had a soft corner for congress. The other journals of alternative media taken side of dalits is Bahujana Keratalu and Veekshanam . Bahujana Keratalu a dalit magazine came out with a cover story Baguna netalu kadu, Baduga ratalu. It had out rightly opposed the upper caste media and its political interests. Veekshanam is an identified as progressive journal run by K.Venugopal. Though it had published some articles of dalit scholars, the editorial goes in the line of dominant opinion. This carried the articles of dalit scholars and activists such as K.Satyanarayana, Krupakar Madiga and G.Sambaiah. However, dalit scholars have expressed different opinion about mainstream media in particular Andhrajyothi episode in particular in available space of media. The daily Surya facilitated the space for dalit intellectuals such as Kanche Ialiah, Katti Padma Rao, Kesaraju Komranna, Vu.Sa., Sreerama Chandramurti, Pratyusha Subba and also carried the views of Krishna Madiga, R.Krishnaiah and so on. Later the issue took different turn with the arrest of the editor of news paper K. Srinivas along with two of his associates under SC/ST act based on the complaint of Krishna Madiga.
This episode opens up the debate of representation of dalits and issues of dalits in mainstream telugu media and the hollowness of freedom of press. The journalists and their associations are trying to project the issue as an attack on freedom of press by concealing the nexus between their owners and hegemonic politics. The paper reading public very much aware that the story targeting the dalit leaders has written in the context to fulfil the interest of one hegemonic group against another.

Media and Market
Dominant mass media is the product of capitalism. A revolution in Indian language newspapers began in 1970s. From 1980s one can witness the significant change in mass media in its technology and expansion. Robin Jeffrey in his book explains the relation between print and capitalism and its role in producing political identity and public sphere. Media is a weapon in capitalist class plays a role in mediating ruling classes and people in its own style. In the changing political and social context, people’s struggles are influencing the news in one hand, simultaneously on the other hand ruling works out to mould these struggles in their favour with the mediation of media. The investments for mainstream telugu media is from capitalist class such as real estate business, liquor business and big contractors who got profit in recent times illegally. They are looking for the political power to secure their business interests. In other words, the investments in the media will help in extracting profit from other spheres. For the people, it is only the newspaper is visible but not its proprietors and investors. Only on the occasions, when the conflict between the ruling classes took place, there we used to witness the issue of investors in media. However, it appears that the ruling classes compete with each other but they are unanimous in controlling the democratic struggles. In the times of globalization, market forces are dictating every thing. The neo liberal ideology is spreading to every sphere of life.
As Adorno argues culture industry works in tune with political economy of the capitalist class. Noam Chomsky argues that capitalist class uses media to manufacture the consent. He explains in his book Manufacturing consent how the corporate companies and forces of imperialists effectively uses the big media organizations propagates the news stories to get the consent of the people for their market ideologies. He further explains the filters in making the news. Chomsky Their primary function of media is selling audiences to advertisers. They don't make money from their subscriptions. CBS news doesn't make money when you turn on your television. They make money when an advertiser pays them. Now advertisers pay for certain things. They're not going to pay for a discussion that encourages people to participate democratically and undermine corporate power. The people in the media have no concerns for democracy or freedom or anything else. What they're concerned with is protecting power from people. Robin Jeffrey, who worked extensively on Indian vernacular media explains how the interests of capitalist class and media are intertwined. The newspaper revolution is part of capitalism, but it is neutral in struggles between ‘liberal democracy’ and ‘religious majoritarianism’. He further points out the exclusion of dalit representation in Indian media, both English and vernacular. P.Sainath, the noted journalist of india observed that journalism largely a stenography to the powerful. For Media leaders the lives of ordinary people make no sense in their economic calculation and rationale. Further he argues the priorities of our media and marginalization of certain issues and groups in media. We don’t have full time correspondent to cover poverty or a beat to cover labour. There is no special reporter to cover atrocities against dalits in our media.

Dalits and Media

To the mainstream media dalits are not a news till they organized from eighties. Dalit entry into modern public sphere with the rise of dalit movement has created disturbance in media too. Till then any reference to dalits in media is either from the humanistic ideals of upper caste or from Gandhian model of reform of untouchable. The write up ends with moral teaching that dalits have to be educated to overcome their ignorance. The progressive intellectuals occasionally reflected on dalit issues as part of the class class struggles with the identification of them as poor people or coolies. Most of these discourses took place in media without having any involvement of dalits in expressing their views. From eighties onwards, literacy rate among dalits got increased and a small intellectual class emerged from the community. But their role is crucial in interfering the literary, cultural and political debates. The self respecting conscious dalit youth emerged from the struggles of Karamchedu and Chunduru massacres. Dalits got space in main stream media to the extent from the acceptance of upper caste or to make it use for the political interest of hegemonic class. In contrary to this, any attempt to question the very hegemony of ruling upper caste, even the available small space will be emptied. In this backdrop , there is a need to study the evolution of telugu media, from which social group the capital came into media and the corresponding ideology that it representing. More than we have to take note of politics of media, the way it reflected on the dalits and its context.

In search of Dalit Journalist
In his article "In Search Of A Dalit Journalist," B. N. Uniyal writes that when he undertook a survey of national newspapers and magazines to see if any media house employed a dalit, the figure was an astounding zero (Uniyal, 1996). In fact, he reports that editors and senior staffers became angry at him for carrying out this exercise. Among 686 journalists accredited by the government, 454 were upper caste. The remaining 232 did not carry their caste names and in a random sample of 47, not one was a dalit.[i]
CSDS survey notes that 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." [ii]
Political scientist robin Jeffrey says : in more than ten years studying Indian language newspapers, including twenty weeks of travel in which I stayed in twenty towns, visited dozens of newspapers an interviewed more than 250 people. I did not- so far as I know- meet a dalit journalist working for a mainstream publication, much less a dalit editor or proprietor.Despite the fact that dalits constitute one fourth of India’s population, we find no dalit today working as a reporter or sub editor. Jeffrey continues: there were no dalit editors and no dalit- run dailies. Dalit periodicals, where they existed, were fringe publications, often with a literary emphasis and with limited influence beyond the circle that produced them. The most senior journalist I met in more than ten years of studying Indian newspapers had never worked for a commercially run daily.’[iii]
Shivam Vij There are not even half a dozen Dalit journalists in Lucknow, most of whom do not handle the political beat, and no Dalit journalist works for an English paper.Discrimination manifests itself in the form of marginalisation. Backward caste journalists say they are marginalised not only in places like the Press Club but also inside the newsroom, where upper caste journalists may form a closely knit community. [iv]
Ravikumar argues that The Hindu celebrated its 125th anniversary on 13th September 2003; where as not a single issue of Parayan, which was started about the same time as the hindu, has survived. The Hindu has grown into a Rs.400 – crore empire, though founded with just Rs. 1 and 12 annas. In such context, a critical assessment of the newspaper is necessary, not only from a general perspective but from a dalit perspective as well.[v] Running a magazine is not similar to owning an industry. Since the press is regarded as one of the pillars of democracy, it plays a significant role in shaping democracy. Therefore, demanding the inclusion of dalits in the media should not be merely regarded as a plea for jobs. It is a demand for democracy, like that of the demand for representation in the assembly and parliament. In fact, it is equivalent to seeking due representation in judiciary.
If television and newspaper coverage of the anti-reservation agitation was indulgent and one-sided, the lack of diversity in the newsroom is surely a major culprit. In an ideal world where professionalism is paramount, the caste or religious affiliation of a journalist should not matter. But journalism that has little or no space for the majority of citizens is bound to end up missing out on the complexity of the society it seeks to cover. Story ideas will not be taken up, or if taken up then covered only from a particular perspective. To be sure, many of the negative trends so evident in Indian journalism — the shrinkage of space, the lack of coverage of rural India or of the problems of poor Indians, the episodic, frenetic nature of news, the cult of the Sensex, the preoccupation with trivia and sensationalism — will not be cured by newspapers and TV channels hiring more Dalit, OBC, and Muslim journalists. But greater workplace diversity will certainly infuse a greater degree of vitality in the newsroom as wider varieties of lived experience intrude upon and clash with the largely urban, rich, forward caste Hindu certitudes of the overwhelming majority of journalists.[vi]
To see the transparency of the news the representation of dalits too considered an important issues. How much space is available in media and what way the news related to dalits are projected too are important in understanding or assessing the media. Most of the times, the everyday ongoing atrocities on dalits is not an issue for media.It occupies thenews only with the struggles of dalits. Even that news pushed to district or mandal page. In some times, though the local stingers reported the news, this will not be published.Even it is published the mainpoint misses in the editing. Moreover the language and adjective selected to project the story is framed within the allowed language of upper castes. On the stories of atrocities against dalit we often find the view point of police or upper caste but we don’t find the view point from the dalit victims.

History of Telugu Media and Exclusion of Dalit Interests

Telugu press is started in Madras around1830, and established in delta region of Andhra. The towns like Rajahmundry, Kakinada, Bezawada, Machilipatnam, Amalapuram, Narsapuram and Tenali are established as centres of Telugu press. Mostly, the telugu press in initial days came up with initiation of English educated upper caste middle class and religious organizations. The social reform movement has influenced the press to an extent. The journal named Vrutthantine (1838-42) published from madras is considered as the first telugu journal. It has followed by Vaartha Tarangini (1842), Tatvabodhini (1863), Hitabodhi (1864), Sujanaranjani (1872), Andhrabashasanjeevani(1871), Purushardha Pradhayini (1872), Veeresalingam’s Vivekavardhini(1874), Andhrapatrika (1885), Satyasamvardhini(1891), Sasirekha(1894), Desabhimani (1896) and so on. Though these journals came up with the influence of modernist and social reformism, but they are overcome the brahminical hindu ideology. At the beginning of the twentieth century, sudra communities become caste conscious and started caste organizations for the welfare of respective community. From this backdrop, with the initiation of Anjaneya chowdary, the magazine named Chowdary from Eluru and with Vekanna, the magazine setti balija from Amalapuram have published. The non Brahmin movement which came in response to Brahmin dominance in education and employment has confined to peasant communities such as kamma and reddy. They fail to incorporate dalits and other backward castes into their fold. In this context, early dalit movement came in the form of adiandhra and adihindu movement by claiming the idea of sons of the soil. In the colonial times, dalit journalism got flourished with journals such as Kusama Dharmanna’s Jayabheri (1937), Jala Rangaswamy’s Veerabharathi(1933, Rahmundry),Vundru Subbarao’s Harijanulu (1944, Razole),Geddada Brahmaiah’ Adi Andhra(Amalapuram), Pamu Ramamurty’s Adi Hindu ( Rajahmundry), B.S.Murthy’s Navajeevan and Bhagyareddy Verma’s Bhagyanagar (Hyderabad).

The nationalist struggles against colonialism and harijanodharana vudhyamam aspart of nationalist movement under the leadership of Gandhi has how far influenced the media has to be studied. And what extent our media has compromised with British rule too has to be studied. It is debatable point how far the alternative dalit journals got succeeded against the dominant media. In following days media took the lead in negotiating or bringing together the Brahmin and non Brahmin communities in the pretext of separate Andhra movement.

In the post independent india too, there is difference in the attitude and ideology of telugu press. It has deliberately works for the interest of ruling class. In 1955, the prominent telugu dailies Andhrapatrika, Andhraprabha in support of congress they had systematic attempt to manufacture the consent against alternative communist politics. They aimed their criticism against Sree Sree and Abhyudaya Rachayitala Sangham by propagating literature should not have politics. For more details one may go through the Sahiti Mitrulu of Vijayawada edited a book Donga Dadi which illustrates the manufacturing of the consent in favour of ruling class by media (telugu dailies) in mid 50s. In the post independent Andhra, as a result of green revolution the feudal lords extracted the surplus and got investing the agro based industries and culture industry such as cinema and print media. The newspaper Eenadu(1974) has totally changed the discourse of press. It has coincided with political aspirations of his kamma community. It works for NT Ramarao’s Telugu desam to come into power. The news paper has its phenomenal growth with rise of Telugu desam party. On one hand it had inseperable link of capital, politics and kamma social community and on the other with market strategies, classified ads, district supplements, editions from each district and sophisticated technology revolutionized the telugu print media.As a result it had established the social and cultural hegemony of the kamma community and Telugu Desam Party. To counter this hegemony, film director Dasari Narayana Rao’s Udayam, and the industrialist Girish Sanghi’s Vartha came forward. Both of them become elected to Rajyasabha from congress party. The other dailies Andhra prabha of Indian express group, and Andhrabhoomi of Deccan Chronicle group presence is nominal and are not opinion makers in telugu society. The Prajasakti and Visalandhra confined to their respective communist parties. Andhrajyothi is protecting its importance though the ownership changes very often.

Rajasehkar Reddy who has consolidated the Reddy community under congress party realized the importance of the media after he got elected as chief minister against Telugu desam. In that process from the day one he started targeting the Eenadu largest circulated telugu daily and Andhrajyothy which is believed that Chandrababu had investments in the daily. Later he himself launched a daily sakshi by getting the investments from big contractors and industrialists. The news paper came in support of Rajasekhar Reddy rule openly. It is known fact that business class invested in the paper to get the other business deals from the Rajasekharreddy. On the other hand, Eenadu and Andhrajothy claims that they are targeted for exposing the misdeeds of the government. But one has to think about all these news papers, the main stream media in general how far they supported the people’s rights and democratic movement against the wish of ruling class ideology?

Against the mainstream media, alternative media too emerged in telugu society from progressive and dalit movements. Though they confine to small sections but are effective in exposing the mainstream media and its ruling class ideology. Left wing magazines such Srujana, Arunatara, Janasahiti and dalit journals such as Nalupu (1989-93), Yedureeta (1990-94), Ekalavya, Dalita Rajyam , Kula Nirmulana (2001)and Bahujana Keratalu (2001), Samantara (2005).Most of these journals are short lived. Bahujana Keratalu is the only dalit magazine represented the dalit view point in the controversy of Andhrajyothy and Madiga Dandora. It posed a challenge to main stream media and its apostle of freedom of press.

Politics of Media

There are many efforts to attack the dalit movement and its leadership. The upper often depicts dalits as jokers, fools, criminals, violent and corrupt. These stereotrype images are popularized by the media. The dominant caste often negates dalits and its leadership on moral ground. Morality is weapon used by the upper caste to punish dalits. Their moral teaching is confined to only dalits but not to them. Andhrajyothy’s attack on dalit leadership is on such attacks. It is known fact that Andhrajyothy too has its own political agenda than its claims of political innocence in the guise of freedom of press. The ruling congress party has managed to get the support of both dalit sub castes through its own tactics. There is an urgency to bring these groups from the fold of its leadership by creating some kind of dissent against its leadership. Ultimately this may help in strengthening the oppositional political force. To fulfil this Andhrajyothy took the lead by manufacturing the consent in favour of other ruling class. The media is in make up of image for main political parties. For this has added some facts with fiction.
The Andhrajyothy and Dandora episode reveals that the nexus between media-capital –politics in one hand in addition to historically marginalization of dalits in mainstream media. To theoretize the marginalization of dalits, one has to taken into consideration the role of capital and its political ideology. In Indian context, one should not forget that capital has also its caste character. The mainstream media makes systematic attempt to protect the upper caste ruling classes’ interest. Dalits are forced to sacrifice in the competitive struggles within ruling classes. For mainstream media though Dalits are not significant constituency of market. But dalits are crucial in political constituency. Media by taking the role of negotiating the capital and politics of ruling class forced to drag dalits to its fold to serve its interest. In the controversy of Andhrajyothy and dalit leadership, the convergence of capital, politics and media is very much visible. In this situation, the politically consolidated dalit movement not only protects its leadership but also checks the dominant ruling class and its media. In that process, it has to create alternative media on its own and also learns to read the politics of mainstream media.

End Notes
[i] Uniyal. B.N. , In Searchg of Dalit Journalist, 1996
[ii] CSDS, Upper caste dominate National Media, published in The Hindu June 5,2006. The survey was designed and executed by Anil Chamaria, freelance journalist, Jitendra Kumar from the Media Study Group and Yogendra Yadav, senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi. A survey of the social profile of more than 300 senior journalists in 37 Hindi and English newspapers and television channels in the capital has 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.
[iii] Robin Jeffrey, India’s Newspaper Revolution: capitalism, Politics and The Indian Language Press, 2nd Edition (New Delhi: Oxford University Press,2003), p.161
[iv] Shivam Vij, Media, Discrimination and Marginalization posted in m must read
[v] Ravi Kumar, The Unwritten Writing : Dalits and Media . D. Ravikumar is presently the M.L.A. belonging to Dalit Panthers Party of Tamilnadu Assembly. This article is originally published in Tamil in the journal Dalit in February 2004 and translated into English by R Azhagarasan and published in Nalini Rajan (Ed.) 21st Century Journalism in India.
[vi] Siddharth Varadarajan, Caste matters in Indian Media, The Hindu ,June3,2006

3 comments:

justicefordalits said...

right on the target

黃郁順 said...

Hello~Nice to meet you~..................................................

minusam said...

congratulations!
pls.write more on this topic.