The elections are over and we have a reactionary, nationalist and totalitarian believer as our ruler. And soon after the elections we had an outburst of caste atrocities all over the country. And particularly in Maharashtra, which has a tradition of reporting bias in events of caste atrocities, such incidents have been on the rise. The media, however, either rarely covers them or reports these with bigotry. This is somehow witnessing a shift recently.
It would be worthwhile to examine the above mentioned statement by me with several past examples.
Last year, a caste atrocity took place at Sonai in Ahmednagar district. The media presented it as a simple love-affair-gone-wrong and did not recognize it as a caste atrocity. However, activists from Maharashtra brought the truth out. The technical problem with caste atrocity cases is that when people get killed, the physical presence of caste cannot be proved. The media is dominated by upper castes, and hence it is never ready to look at this rationally.
The three Dalit youngsters killed in Sonai
After more than a year of the Sonai massacre it is still sub judice, the respective activists busy in the case have brought to the fore that even the Public Prosecutor has not been appearing in court for the case.
Early this year, on 28th of April, a 17 year old school boy, Nitin Aage, was brutally murdered by the castiest Maratha people in Kharda. Instead of making it to the media headlines, this news was spread all over Maharashtra on social media which played a courageous role. It spread so widely on social media that the mainstream media was compelled to take note of the incident.
On May 1, also Maharashtra day, the Marathi daily "Loksatta" published a story on the Kharda killing as "Bhay Maharashtra" (fear-filled Maharashtra). They reported the complete story and also criticized the dominant Maratha caste. This created a tug of war in the media. Every media group was conscious about Kharda reporting, after this news broke in Loksatta, youth came on roads in protest in cities. How could electronic media sit back in this tussle? They also jumped into the matter. For the first time, mainstream media had a prime-time discussion on the issue of caste atrocities.
We, the journalist youth in Pune, had organized a silent march on 6th of May. During this march the electronic and print media gave plenty of publicity. After the march we held a meeting where we talked about all the caste atrocities in Maharashtra that had happened recently.
Nitin Aage's mother and family
In this context, I must also discuss the pattern of reporting on Dalits by Dalits in the mainstream media. Over the years, the prominent Marathi dailies- Loksatta, Sakal, Lokmat etc., are reporting according to their own particular agendas. Loksatta very prominently toes an anti-Dalit agenda. Since the past few years, they have been mischievously planting news suggesting that Dalits are going towards 'naxalism' saying: 'Dalit youth is attracted towards naxalism', and many such stories. Their special correspondent from Gadchiroli (who actually resides in Chandrapur) continuously reported in a way that he had to prove that Dalits are Naxals. On open platforms, he shamelessly says that the Khairlanji agitation was done by Naxals.
Last year, they acknowledged Madhu Kamble, a Dalit journalist, as a writer on this issue. Madhu Kamble without any history of being a part of the Ambedkarite movement plays the same tune as that of Loksatta. The learned editor of Loksatta has always been against reservation. I had attended his speech at Nagpur. The entire editorial and new analysis of Loksatta seems to follow the RSS school of thought. All these stories and their concern about Dalit rights is simple: they assume all dalits are naxals.
On 2nd May, Loksatta published another article about caste atrocities in Ahmednagar with the view: "Nagar project of atrocities". This also created discussions among the educated Dalit youth. Social media was working fantastically. A news came on Sakal daily about the silent march in its online edition, and the dominant Maratha boys had commented that 'if Dalit guys come in contact with Maratha girls, we will cut hands and legs of all.'
None of these media spaces ever plays the role of a whistleblower with respect to justice for oppressed Dalits.
Pradip, Sanjay Khobragade's son
All these mouth pieces of intelligentsia do not cry for justice to Dalits, their murders, rapes and massacres. Their only concern for Dalits was that Dalits are Naxals. They and their puppet reporters like Madhu Kamble did not ask a single question of the government of Maharashtra, police administration or SC-ST Commission about injustice done to Dalits. Not a single question was asked about, what government policies are there for Dalit youth whose sisters are being raped? They also asked no questions to investigating agencies about their fraudulent and bogus FIRs in atrocity cases. We have a home minister who is known for his nonsensical utterances.
The Government of Maharashtra launched a program "Mahatma Gandhi Tanta Mukt Gaon Karykram" which Dalits, all over the state, are talking about as a plan to hide the cases of atrocities. Shamelessly, the government of Maharashtra gave this award to Khairlanji village, where we all know the massacre of Bhotmange family took place in 2006. Even the journalist who brought out the false news of sexual relations of Surekha Bhotmange in Khairlanji shares the same bigotry as the government of Maharashtra.
Learned journalists of these dailies fail to ask questions to the judiciary about controversial verdicts on atrocities, caste based massacres, and caste based genocide. They also do not question the government about the shameless 'protection' of the accused. Given this, what should the reaction of the Dalit youth be? Dalits are working for their dream of annihilation of caste which is actually the responsibility of the state. But the media has story after story for their readers on how the Naxals are planning to attract Dalit youth but they never ask the government of Maharashtra- what is your policy for victims, their families?
After the Khairlanji massacre, there is a clear classification in the media that Dalits are Naxals, much like how Muslims are terrorists. After the Khairlanji agitation all propagated arrested and acquitted 'Naxals' (who were actually innocent people) in the state were Dalits. Media is not critical about this propaganda of the state but in fact acts as a partner. Throughout the year, innocent people have to pay the price of being Dalit. Whether it is upper caste oppressors or the state, "Dalits are Naxals"as per their logic. In nearly all the cases of caste atrocities, the investigating agencies work hard to make sure that all the accused should be freed from prison. So, in effect, Dalits have to face two challenges- first is being criminalized as Naxals by media, and second is to tolerate atrocities ignored by media.
Around midnight on 16th May, 2014, ACJP (Ambedkarite Centre for Justice and Peace) activist Sanjay Khobragade was burnt alive by upper caste Powars of the Kawalewada village of Gondia district. The dying declaration of Sanjay Khobragade (he names 6 people, all Powars) was denied by the police who behaved like the judge in the matter. The police, specifically PI Anil Patil Gangazari and DYSP Girhe, invented a false story overnight. Instead of investigating according to the law, they fabricated their own version: that the wife of Sanjay Khobragade- Mrs Devkabai Khobragade- had physical relations with Mr. Raju Gadpayle, Sanjay's co-activist.
Sanjay Khobragade's house
This story was made official and the innocent Devkabai and Raju were put behind bars, while people who committed the crime were freed on bail from the court. All accused Powars are closely affiliated with BJP. The village is also crowded with right wing hoardings, like those of the Bajrang Dal. Moreover, PI Patil made unbelievable statements like: "She declared during the funeral at the cemetery that she was madly in the love with Raju Gadpayle." When I enquired, all those present at funeral, denied this. PI Patil though said that he has 25 evidences and 10 witnesses.
Another tragedy is that the Times of India Nagpur crime reporter gave a different story from Nagpur office. And on the same day the Lokmat correspondent from Gondia gave another story. That's why the Jaatiy Anyay Atyachar Aandolan burnt copies of Times Of India at Nagpur. Pradip, Sanjay Khobragade's son, said that the police arrested them falsely. He and his mother were called out of the GMC hospital, Nagpur, by PI Patil & they allegedly tortured his mother and pressurized her to accept the crime of killing her husband which was actually committed by Powars of the village. Pradip said, PI Patil slapped her 6-10 times. He even had a female constable around to keep his name 'safe'. PI Patil, of course, denied the allegations of torture. Even people of both castes of the village Kawalewada also talked that there was nothing like sexual relations between Devkabai and Raju Gadpayale. All this chaos was created by the police to bring in new and false ideas in the investigating agency to trap the victim or family members of the victim and make an issue of sexual relations and destroy the case. This, as we have seen has been the case everywhere- from Khairlanji to Kawalewada.
Dalit leadership like Congress MLA and Minister Dr. Nitin Raut and Mr. Thool SC-ST commission chairman endorsed the false version put forward by the police. It was only after more than a month that a journalist from Indian Express, Mumbai, political correspondent Sukanya reported the correct story in Indian Express.
The Long March
The Kharda long march was held from Pune to Kharda, from 22 to 28 May 2014 and was organized by Dalit Aadivasi Adhikar Aandolan. A Marathi magazine "Kalamnama" reported exclusively on the Kharda story. Nikhil Wagle, Editor In Chief of Ibn Lokmat TV aired stories over the incident. Maratha organisations held big protest at Jamkhed and condemned Mr. Wagle.
The Long March for justice from Pune to Kharda
This march was organized to protest against the gruesome caste atrocities, but intelligence agencies and the police in collusion with several journalists spread rumors through their dailies that KKM members (Kabir Kala Manch) were present in the march. Thankfully, some honest journalists refused to go along with this plan of the police.
The perspective of mainstream media is prejudiced against the Dalits. Another peculiarity about this issue is that media is creating such an environment that naxals are trying to contact Dalits due to lack of leadership in the state. But at the same time, the media and other agencies are also taking same benefits. Is it possible to blame Dalits in Uttar Pradesh? We have to search answers for these questions which the mainstream media will not answer.
In this serious scenario, Dalit youth will have to organize themselves and demand justice from the state. Which they in fact are already doing. All over the state people are protesting peacefully. But why is the news coming from the media not reflecting that?
Sunil Dudhe is a member of the Journalism Students Forum.