IN Media Practice | 02/09/2002


By Meena Kandasamy

Recently, Chandra Bhan Prasad wrote an excellent article pointing out the absence of dalit journalists. He lamented that from a population of over 205 dalits there was not a single dalit with an accreditation card in the mainstream media. He vehemently emphasized that "the Indian media is still a prisoner of the chatur-varna world view". The truth of this reality is being reinforced everyday. Politics and casteist bias in the national media not only dictate what should be reported, but also what must not be reported. Ignoring dalit writings and activism seems to be an unwritten rule in today¿s upper-caste dominated press. And the obscure media coverage extended to Vasant Moon¿s death on April 1, 2002 is just another example of the dalits being given inferior treatment. Nevertheless, it highlights the carelessness with which the media treats the dalits.

Vasant Moon was a staunch follower of Dr. Ambedkar and a noted dalit activist. He was the Editor of the twenty collected volumes of "Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches", which was published by the Education Department of the Maharashtra Government. All through his life, he worked with the single goal of compiling and editing the works of Babasaheb and with his meticulous hard work, he immortalized Dr. Ambedkar. If there are millions of ambedkarites in the world today, it is only because of the untiring efforts of Vasant Moon. His autobiography ¿Vasti¿ was the first dalit autobiography published in India. Last month, its English translation by Gail Omvedt, titled "Growing up Untouchable in India" was released. Vasant Moon also played a great role in the sourcing of dalit literature. It is a fact that any research on the dalit movement could never have been complete but for the help extended by him. He must be remembered because he gave permanence to our history and heritage.

But, Vasant Moon was not given the fancy government honors; the quintessential string of Padma awards that so easily and automatically come in rapid succession to adorn the upper-caste privileged. Although his services were fully appropriated by the Indian government, any kind of genuine official recognition was absent. With his death, he left behind a nation terribly in debt.

A great ambedkarite like Vasant Moon deserved the national English media¿s genuine attention, which was clearly absent. The media has been on the wrong side with respect to his case. Let us not deny this for the sake of refuting. Instead, let us remind ourselves of the hyperbole that we lavish on upper-caste authors, men and women whose popularity far outlives their book-sales. Let us renew our memories and feel the sponsored elation the media experiences when sycophants of those in power are heaped with awards and laurels. Alternatively, let us deal with dreary deaths. And the disparity therein. We don¿t need comprehensive research to draw parallels and understand why the demise of a prominent dalit intellectual could not command even a single line in two widely circulated national newspapers in India. This willful laxity was despite UNI reporting the sad incident.

I am not in a furious frenzy for the reason that Vasant W. Moon was not accorded a fitting obituary by the national media. Dalit activists all over the world will revere him forever. I am grieved by the sorrow and helplessness of a prophetic truth that Dr. Ambedkar wrote in 1945, - " The Untouchables have no Press". The statement sounds powerfully authentic and accurate even today. When the mainstream media refuses to publish dalit-related news, it sends a clear signal that they aim to practice a modified version of untouchability. It indefensibly acknowledges that they seek to endorse and perpetually nurture the hierarchy the caste system provides.

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