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When Priests Preside Over Newsrooms

By Chandrabhan Prasad

20 August, 2004
The Pioneer

I was at Neyveli, the electric power city of Tamil Nadu, last week, taking part in a seminar on "Reservations in the Private Sector". On the eve of the seminar, Dalit officers had organised a dinner meet.

To my complete disbelief, most of them knew about Diversity, keen to know how it actually works in the US. For quite some time, they had been downloading Dalit Diary from The Pioneer website. And a Mr Ravi Kumar, a new age leading Dalit intellectual, whose new thesis on Periyar has unleashed a fresh intellectual churning in Tamil Nadu, quickly published some of my articles in Tamil to help with wider circulation. On August 8, diversity came to be the seminar's central theme.

My experience in Pondicherry was similar. For over a week, I was in the South of India, to participate in the launch of my book Dalit Diary 1999-2003: Reflection on Apartheid in India, published by Navyana, a Pondicherry-based publishing house. The book was launched on August 9 in Chennai and Hyderabad. As the news trickled down that I was visiting the South, other groups rushed in to organise seminars.

In Chennai, the book was launched by Richard Haynes, Consul General at the US Consulate, who spoke at length on diversity in America. The young Dalit journalist M Jeyarani received the first copy. On August 10, the Asian School of Journalism, owned by The Hindu group, invited me in for a guest lecture.

On August 11, the Odyssey chain of bookstores organised a launch in Hyderabad. Justice Ramaswamy launched the book. T Ashok, editor of the Telugu daily Vaartha which reproduces Dalit Diary every week, was the other panelist, along with senior journalist Ms Akhileshwary of The Deccan Herald, who received the first copy.

On August 12, SC/ST students of Hyderabad Central University organised a discussion on the book, with intellectual activist Bhoja Tarkam and Geeta Ramaswamy as the main panelists. Ms Shyamala, a famous Dalit writer-activist, organised an interaction with women writers at her institute. In the evening, Swati Margaret, another rising woman writer, led over a dozen young activists to my place for another round of discussions.

Back in the North, my readers have formed the UP Dalit Diversity Group, advocating diversity. Shishupal Singh of the Congress party heads the Delhi Dalit Diversity Group, which organised two marches, one at CII, in which novelist Sagarika Ghose participated, and the other at DPS, in which Shubha Parmar took part.

Last month, I attended a diversity seminar in Gorakhpur. A few months earlier, I attended a similar seminar in the sleepy town of Shahjahanpur. I have an invitation to address a diversity seminar in district Lakhimpur Khiri, one of the remotest places in UP. Diversity seminar invitations keep pouring in. Dalit writers from Madurai are insisting that I visit them.

These Dalit groups are not funded by cash-rich NGOs, or foreign foundations. These Dalit groups collect Rs 100 or 200 from large numbers of Dalits, and at times this turns into a mass movement to raise money to buy air tickets for my visits. If I start travelling by train, I will be missing many a column. This becomes painful as I know the economic condition of Dalits. I stopped my friends at Neyveli who were dispatching a team to Pondicherry, a 160 km away, to fetch lobsters for the August 8 dinner meet.

I wonder how stupid and comical the Brahmans who preside over newsrooms and TV news channels could be. If the Dalits of Madurai and Lakhimpur Khiri, certainly not blessed with US visas or access to the Internet, are aware of diversity, how can Indian newspaper editors, salesmen and women of our news channels be ignorant of the same?

"Benevolent" editors, columnists and anchors who are debating Dalit rights, are focusing on job reservations alone. This job "reservation" is all about jobs in the private sector, a number which runs into a few lakhs. Diversity is about Dalits' share in trade and industry; in other words, a share in India's wealth and representation in the knowledge market, film, music, media, and other public institutions.

Editors, columnists and anchors must be contemporary in their knowledge of events taking place in the world. If they are ignorant of American diversity, then they are terribly incompetent as media professionals. If they are aware of it but afraid of diversity, then they are terribly casteist.

How do we differentiate between a priest and an editor? A priest practices the highest form of untouchability but rarely claims any progressive space. An editor outdoes the priests and suppresses the free flow of information, while yet claiming a progressive and liberal space.

What a shame!






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