The dalit stories which don’t make news

BY RAVIKIRAN SHINDE| IN Media Practice | 14/10/2016
The anniversary would be a great event to cover on TV surely? No. As they do every year, the mainstream media boycotted this historic and gigantic gathering in Nagpur.
But the RSS’s Dussehra celebrations were covered live says RAVIKIRAN SHINDE

The Deeksha Bhoomi decorated for the  60th Dhamma Chakra Pravartan Din on October 11.

 

Dr. Ambedkar, in his speech delivered on October 13, 1935, in Yewala, in Nashik district, had thundered that although he was born as a Hindu, he would not die as one. He advised the depressed classes to abandon all agitation for temple-entry privileges. Instead, he advised that they should leave Hinduism entirely and embrace another religion.

Vexed by the rampant caste discrimination rooted in Hinduism that did not spare even a foreign-returned doctorate scholar like him, he fought against bigotry all his life.  On October 14, 21 years later, after studying various other religions he chose to become a Buddhist and, under its influence, gave birth to an Indian Constitution based on liberty, equality, fraternity and justice.  

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the conversion of millions of dalits led by Dr. Ambedkar in Nagpur. The celebrations took place on October 9th as per the lunar calendar. Known as Deeksha Bhoomi, this was by far the largest religious mass conversion in the history of the modern world without any bloodshed. The day is marked by intense celebrations of the man and his achievements and the efforts being made by dalits to uplift the community.

Journalist Vidya Bhushan Rawat took part in the Deeksha Bhoomi celebrations and shared his experience on social media. "They came in lakhs to pay their tributes during celebrations that overshadowed the Dusshera celebrations in the RSS headquarters in Nagpur. Everywhere you see Dhamma Chakra, the Buddha and Dr. Ambedkar. You see literature, music, culture, theatre, dance  - everything to help you understand what makes Dr. Ambedkar the tallest intellect of India and not just a political leader. The people come on their own and the emotions and passion can only be understood if you have sensitivity."

 

"Known as Deeksha Bhoomi, this was by far the largest religious mass conversion in the history of the modern world without any bloodshed."

 

This would be a great event to cover on television surely? No. As they have done every year, the mainstream media have boycotted this historic and gigantic gathering attended by millions. Even local Marathi TV channels in Maharashtra covered it scantily.  This year they showed a half-minute soundbite of Chief Minister Devendra Fadanavis who attended the event but without showing anything else that was going on.

To mark this anniversary, every year, thousands of low caste people convert to Buddhism.  Rediff.com recently reported that in Gujarat, following the Una atrocity, hundreds of dalits have taken a pledge to convert to Buddhism on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the conversion. But the mainstream media have turned a blind eye to it.

Just few kilometers away, at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, Dussehra is celebrated and this is aired live on many channels or covered extensively.

Another equally ignored occasion is the Chaitya Bhoomi in Dadar where Dr. Ambedkar was cremated on 6th December 1956. Millions of dalits gather here to pay their homage and there is never any media coverage. If anything, this event is reported negatively around the traffic congestion and inconvenience caused to residents around Chaitya Bhoomi because of the millions who arrive there from all over India.

It’s not that interesting, newsworthy things don’t happen in the dalit community. For example, last year, some youths inspired by young dalit poet and journalist Vaibhav Chhaya started a drive for people to donate one pen and one notebook. Millions of pens and notebooks were later distributed to needy students and schools. Chhaya repeated the campaign at Deeksha Bhoomi this year. Surely this is a heart-harming story that might merit some media coverage?

 

"It’s not that interesting, newsworthy things don’t happen in the dalit community."

 

It’s not as though Buddhists are so negligible as to warrant being totally ignored. Dr. Amebekdar did not live to see his plans of mass conversions at Mumbai and other places materialise. Nonethless, the Censusindia.gov.in website lists the Buddhist population at eight million as per the 2011 census.  The largest concentration of Buddhism is in Maharashtra (58.3%), where (73.4%) of the total Buddhists in India reside; Karnataka (3.9 lakh); Uttar Pradesh (3.0 lakh); West Bengal (2.4 lakh); and Madhya Pradesh (2.0 lakh) are other states with large Buddhist populations. Sikkim (28.1%); Arunachal Pradesh (13.0%); and Mizoram (7.9 %) are the top states in terms of having the maximum percentage of Buddhists.

Since most neo-Buddhist were erstwhile dalits from Maharashtra, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh, the term dalits and Buddhist is used interchangeably here. Some still maintain their Hindu caste certificate although they practise Buddhism. The confusion over reservations for converted Buddhists meant that dalits were apprehensive about reporting themselves as Buddhists. In reality, the Buddhist population could be higher.  

In any case, the sheer scale of the celebrations merit notice. Millions of Buddhist and dalits converge on Nagpur to celebrate the anniversary of the conversion, called Dhamma Chakra, after the Buddhist meaning of revolving the chakra. According to one estimate, the sales from books on Ambedkar, Buddha, Phule and other social reformers goes into lakhs of rupees. Hundreds of stalls give out educational information, assistance or guidance to dalit youths.

Dr. Ambedkar asked his followers to donate five per cent of their income to uplifting their brothers and sisters from abject poverty and neglect. Today there are plenty of people who follow his ideals, such as Pankaj and his wife Sheetal who are based in Colorado, USA and who participated in the Dhamma Chakra. They have been working with local groups to train and empower women and students from the lower echelons and this has included giving bicycles, computers and educational assistance – and self-defence training – to dalit girls.

Granted, the mainstream media does highlight, to some extent, the atrocities against dalits. Although they do not make it to prime time debates, they are at least reported. But positive news or shows of strength almost find no mention. A good example is the recent historic resolve by dalits in Gujarat not to remove cow carcasses. This could have been the big story and debate of the day. Another is Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati's whirlwind rallies across Uttar Pradesh that are attracting 10-20 lakh strong crowds. They barely received any attention until two women died in a mini-stampede during her Lucknow rally on 9th October. 

All we need from the media is not special attention or special treatment but simply the normal application of what constitutes news to be applied to dalit events.  

 

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