More about Dalit hopes and despair

New Delhi, Novermber, 3 : Last week's column, “The plight of Dalits and the news media” (October 25, 2010), has generated a lively and interesting response from several readers. The column was about the prioritisation of the tasks before the National Commission for the Scheduled Castes (NCSC) by its new Chairman, P.L. Punia (not P.J. Punia as erroneously mentioned in the column.) The concern of most who wrote was over the failure of successive governments to achieve the empowerment of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the most vulnerable of the country's poor, 63 years after Independence. This reveals not only their awareness of the pain of these victims of anti-human oppression, but also of official and bureaucratic indifference to their predicament. Readers are also aware of the lack of political will among those in power to help find a way out of this shameful situation. This is a far cry from the situation prevailing, say, 15-20 years ago, when reports that untouchability was still being practised in many parts of the country as harshly as ever carried little credibility among readers.

As recently as in 1990, political leaders tended to deny that discrimination was practised against Dalits in teashops, where the beverage was served to Dalits and non-Dalits in two different sets of tumblers. These leaders asserted that it might have happened in one or two remote villages. It was as though they believed, and wanted others to believe, that the constitutional ban on untouchability had abolished it on the ground. The atrocities against Dalits were depicted by most political parties and much of the media as ‘inter-caste clashes' and the outcome of some needless provocation, usually from the Dalit side. Further, there was a marked tendency to equate the perpetrators of oppression and violence with the victims. Policemen, the overwhelming majority of whom were ‘caste-Hindus,' almost always threw their weight behind their kin. Dalits thus became the victims of both caste oppression and hatred and the custodians of law.

It was only during the first decade of the present century that large numbers of newspaper readers apparently began to see the Dalit question in fact-based perspective. In turn, there was a perceptible improvement in the media's approach to, and coverage of, what may broadly be termed the Dalit Question, a critical challenge facing rising India. Unlike the previous decade, when reader ratings of Dalit-related reports were generally poor, the past decade has seen a spurt of lively responses to reports and editorial articles on poverty, caste-based oppression, and social injustice. Young men and women entering the field of journalism after being sensitised to the issue by good teachers in serious journalism schools or departments began writing on Dalit issues boldly and with elan. At least a few of the mainstream newspapers turned their focus on the plight of the poor and the oppressed. This is a heartening trend in agenda building, which in turn has sensitised and influenced readers.

The responses to last week's column on Mr. Punia's appeal to the central government to provide job reservation came from readers with different backgrounds. Almost all of them showed great concern for the victims. The NCSC has prioritised the tasks ensuring reservation for Dalits in the private sector and maximising the benefits of such plans to Dalits.


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