Dalits and New Media: Towards a Progressive Social Discourse
Communication in India is complex and complicate in tune with the stratification and hierarchical order of Indian casteist society. Casteism, being the most complex and discriminatory social system of the world, vehemently denied the right of Dalits to have education. Thus letters and literature were inaccessible for Dalits for about three millennia; even though they kept their oral tradition alive. Things were changed not because of any positive change of attitude of the dominant caste groups of India; but, ironically, because of the intervention of the western missionaries. It was Christian missionaries, who wanted to produce the Bible in the several languages of the country, who introduced printing and publishing in India1. News magazines, news papers, books and pamphlets were published by the missionaries. Local dominant caste people took part as assistants.
Even though the colonial power and its myriad ways of implementation have been severely criticised, it was a blessing in disguise for the Dalits in India. When the missionaries, especially the protestant missionaries, shifted their focus of their mission work and conversion to the vulnerable communities in India, doors were open for the Dalits to access education. In a sense, Dalits were able to effectively use one power (colonial) to overpower the other power (casteist dominance) to a certain extend. It is an astonishing fact that there are number of eminent writers among the Dalits even though they are in the third or fourth generation literates. While the writers from Dalit background emerged as a force in the last decade, hindrances were umpteen from the casteist Indian media. They are branded as ‘Dalit writers’ who write ‘Dalit literature’. This tokenism in the field of literature have been used as part of the ploy to suppress the emergence of the literature of the Dalits as a rebellion against the casteist social matrix of India.
There is a need of a communicative medium for any writer or a thinker. It is very important for anybody to reach mass audience in the twenty- first century to disseminate his/her ideas. Mass media’s support is very much needed to spread ideas, views and socio- political stands. Mass media in India have been growing in a rapid pace. ‘India has a powerful press. Ranked next to China [107 copies sold daily], India has a booming [099 million copies] newspaper industry. The US press is a distant fourth [051 million copies]. India has over 04720 daily newspapers and 14743 weeklies. With 34 news Channels, India’s electronic media has made its mark2.’ Print media is getting challenged by the visual media and the new media such as internet and mobile phones are getting more accessibility. It is important to discuss how Dalits are portrayed in these media and how far Dalits are able to utilise these media effectively.
Media: Is it a serious affair?
The characteristics of mass media also have been undergoing drastic changes. From being a serious affair of bringing news to the masses, it has been changed into entertaining people even with news. There is no more news, but only ‘news stories’. The unavailability of the basic needs for the people from the margins and the sufferings of the vulnerable communities are not at all news, or they are over shadowed by the news about celebrities, entertainments, party politics and even sexuality (which usually male chauvinist). Information also becomes infotainment. These characteristics are actually against the interests and needs of the marginalised communities in India.
Media: a mirror of society or more?
Indian media is a cross section of Indian society; or one could rightly say that Indian media is an exaggerated cross section of Indian society. There is no doubt that mass media is primarily a business. But certain ethics were expected in this nexus of business and media. With the intervention of neo-...
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