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Dalit Consumer, With A Purchasing Power, Has Arrived

By Ravikiran Shinde

16 September, 2015

Photo Credit: Twocircles.net

August was a busy month for Indian Media. Two people received unduly high media coverage. Hardik Patel and Sheena Bora– The latter being murdered mysteriously. But one important development from the same month from small-town Nagpur in Maharashtra went unreported in the mainstream media.

Peaceful Dalit protesters had forced largest circulated Marathi newspaper Lokmat to issue 'clarification' for its highly prejudiced and offensive editorial of 31st August against caste based-quota. The paper had to backtrack it’s stand, after decision of Dalits to boycott the newspaper.The Dalits had demonstrated their buying power while democratically protesting malicious article as part of a smear campaign.

One couldn’t resist an immediate parallel to the boycott African American community had of last year’s holiday shopping season in USA.

Retailers in USA have the highest business during winter shopping. But National retailer federation reported that in 2014, sales were down 11% in the Thanksgiving weekend - that means sales were down nearly $7 billion since previous year.

In an article Did the Boycott Matter to Black Friday Retail Sales? published in the online portal Root on Dec 4th 2014, Danilele Belton analyzed this drop. Was it the slowdown, spending cuts by families or something else? Ms. Belton discussed one thing the economist didn’t talk about. The African-American community had planned to Boycott the shopping season as a mark to protest the Fergussion grand Jury’s refusal to indict Police officer Darren Wilson in the death of a black teen Michael brown earlier in 2014. Ms. Belton had attributed this unusually huge drop in Retail sales to the boycott that was planned and felt across the nation.

This was a protest by the black commnity to protest the treatment being meted to them.

A Recent study by Nielsen had showed that there are 43 million African American consumers who have collective $1 trillion in buying power and that their buying power is projected to grow $.13 trillion by 2017. The boycott had substantial impact as evident from the reports.

Albeit in a smaller scale, the Dalits in India, had shown a taste of their buying power in their small but significant and effective protest at Nagpur. Numbering more than 60 million, they match up to total population of UK. And yet, they literally have no representation in the mainstream print or Electronic media as Editors, Anchors or talk show hosts much less having a media of their own. Often relying on media who they find ‘soft’ towards them, Dalits have time and again betrayed when the Media reveals it’s true colors.

Lokmat Daily, for instance, is considered liberal and is a highest circulated daily in Maharashtra -headed by Congress Member of parliament, Chairman Vijay Darda.But Mr. Darda in his nasty editorial, that was published on front page in bold headlines, ‘Caste Based reservation now must go’ has written that in the wake of Hardik Patel agitation demading OBC status the quota must be stopped now. The editorial had questioned the objective of constitutionally granted reservation system.

The article also had many factual errors. For instance, Darda writes that Constitution maker Dr. Ambedkar originally intended a 10 year limit for reservation. As a matter of fact, it was political reservation in Assemblies and parliament that was meant to be for 10 years. The article sought to highlight that it’s the economic criteria that’s important and Darda forgets to mention the 'menace' of the vicious and persistent Caste system that deprived these communities for thousands of years and still remains intact causing social discrimination against the backward community mainly Dalits and Tribals.

The same sentiments were echoed in most print and electronic media that are headed by Upper caste who are hostile towards Dalits. Anchors, Editors and their chosen panelist routinely ridicule lower caste Dalits and backward castes’ merit.

So when one young man Hardik patel, who many consider as a puppet in a larger plan of BJP and RSS to create anti-quota sentiments in people, asked for quota for his Patel community, the Media was abuzz with discussion on affirmative action itself and the questioned the very existence of it.

And this is the time when lack of diversity of the newsroom or editorial team gets exposed. Barkha Dutt of NDTV - considered liberal in the Media - held a similar debate on 26th August named ‘Protest or Politics’ and didn't invite a single representative panel from Dalit or Tribal community to put forward their views on reservation. The panel had two ‘Alags’ one ‘Sarabhai’, two ‘Patels’ besides Burkha ‘Dutt’ himself leaving no space for counterview on quota. The discussion naturally ended up bashing caste-based quota system.

Sadly, twitter, facebook and other social media started spreading this hatred in such a well-planned way that the suspicion that BJP man Hardik Patel’s agitation drama was meant to be used for spreading anti-quota sentiments eventually became cystal clear. RSS person MG Vaidya publicly agreed with Hardik Patel that reservations should be given to everyone or abolished altogether.

In Such situation, when 31st August editorial was published in Lokmat, Dalits in Nagpur took to street and protested peacefully in front of Lokmat Bhavan in Nagpur, burned copies of the paper and also vowed to stop the subscription of the newspaper. The protest was so spontaneous, it had students, women and people of all ages participating. Fearing backlash and loss of subscription among these communities, lokmat issued a clarification next day that it is not against reservation but wanted to air some alternate perspective! In its lame defense it also wrote how it was for the renaming of Marathwada University after Dr. B.R Ambedkar.

Those who oppose caste-based quota constitute only 12% of the India’s population as per recent CSDS-BBC recent study. This means that majority of the Indians – namely Scheduled castes, Tribes and other backward classes are supportive of this government scheme - including a tiny percentage of upper caste as well, who are sympathetic to the quota system.

This success of getting Lokmat group to bend down to its knees the Dalits have shown that numerical strength and purchasing power can be used a pressure tactics to avail just demands and make a statement. Ill represented in mainstream Print and electronic media, the have-nots could use this effectively to have their voices heard. In coming days, Lokmat is bound to lose it's 'highest circulated daily status in Maharashtra' owing to the boycott by Dalits.

Mainstream media in India should cotton onto the fact that if they do not air balanced views on their show and diversify their newsroom and panels, their channels may well see substantial drop in viewership as Dalit starts to realise, gauge and use its purchasing power.

Ravikiran Shinde is a writer, blogger and a commentator on socio-political issues in India


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