Few months back, Al Jazeera show on Dalit History had mentioned comments from the Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s Caravan. Today, Times of India covered about Dr. Ambedkar Caravan. Read from here –
In recent months, racial violence has been foregrounded in the US, with the Charleston incident in which nine black church-goers were gunned down and other incidents of police brutality that are no longer possible to deny. And all of a sudden, Black Twitter has become a preoccupation with the US media, reminding it of its own evasions.
Hashtags around race like #icantbreathe #Blacklivesmatter found their way into many feeds, pushed themselves into wider view, and forced a reckoning. The LA Times recently even assigned a reporter to cover Black Twitter, while acknowledging that “it is so much more complicated than that”.
African-American struggles have inspired and tactically informed anti-caste activism. But could Dalit-Bahujan Twitter exert a similar force, in India?
Take Round Table India, a forum of writers that aims for “an informed Ambedkar age” and sees caste as the primary fissure in Indian society. They aggregate news on politics, society and culture, they comment and critique, and try to be a hub for Dalit-Bahujan voices. ‘Unlike mainstream media, we aren’t casteist – we have many upper castes writing, at least as much as their share in the population,” says Naren Bedide, one of the founders.
It’s only half a joke. The media is scandalously unrepresentative – in 1996, Pioneer journalist B N Uniyal found that he hadn’t met a single Dalit journalist in his entire working life. In 2006, a Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) study found that 90% of the decision-makers at English newspapers and 79% of TV journalists were upper-caste.
In other words, the media frames national events, but does not include most of the nation. It speaks with near-unanimity on IIT’s “standards” when it pushes out Dalit students; it misreports caste-based violence as “farmers’ clashes” or lovers’ quarrels when it reports them at all; and it often misses the real import of events. “When others interpret the world for you, can you change it?” is the question that drives Round Table India. “We don’t have, and don’t expect access in the media. It’s a conscious decision to build spaces of our own,” says Bedide. As he sees it, it is a structural conflict, and one can’t use the tools of savarnas, like mainstream media, to dismantle their edifice of hierarchy.
There are blogs like Atrocities News that wrenched attention to the Khairlanji killings and continue to document caste-based attacks. But there are also blogs with entirely different missions, Facebook and Twitter accounts, mailing lists and Whatsapp groups – and to club them all together as Dalit social media flattens their diversity. Shared Mirror, for instance, is a platform for Dalit poetry, translated and new. Savari, a space by Adivasi, Bahujan and Dalit women, speaks with its own distinctive voice.
There are forums dedicated to history and to challenging narratives and erasures, like Dr Ambedkar’s Caravan, which has over 500 articles so far. In April, activists across the board celebrated Dalit History Month, creatively resisting the attempt to reduce Dalit history solely to one of atrocity. This was, again, a nod to Black History Month. Hashtags like #Dalitlivesmatter are often used to galvanize others.
Twitter, though, is still a hostile medium, say many of these writers. “It is full of either Internet Hindus or Congressis and left-liberals, there is no understanding of other issues,” says Bedide. Facebook, which nurtures more like-minded groups and longer conversations, is more useful, says Ashok Bharti, chairman of the National Confederation of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR). “If any incident happens anywhere, it is on my Facebook page in five minutes. It’s better than a wire service, though the stories are often raw,” he says.
“Dalits are still untouchable on social media; if I post anything about Dr Ambedkar or Dalit history in a general forum, I get blocked in a few minutes,” says Pardeep Attri of Ambedkar’s Caravan.
Of course, there is no unified Dalit social media, any more than there is a single Dalit politics across the country, fragmented as it is by sub-caste, region, gender, class and ideological preference. And yet, social media offers something new. Dalit Camera, a YouTube channel, records life “from untouchable eyes”. Bathran Ravichandran, who founded it, says that social media, with the many perspectives it offers, has “broadened the views and values” of Dalit activists around the country. Social media only supplements, in a small way, the grassroots work that goes on around the country, he says.
Others are skeptical of the reach and representativeness of social media Dalit voices. Political analyst and activist Anand Teltumbde describes them as “a small fraction of Dalits, who just talk to each other”. According to him, a sharpened sense of caste and sub-caste identity makes it harder to make common cause with others, and only props up their elite adversaries.
Meanwhile, groups like NACDOR prefer to engage with mainstream media and institutions, and use social media for direct access and advocacy. So does the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle (APSC) at IIT Madras, which has a vocal social media presence. Akhil Bharathan of APSC thinks that caste, as an all-encompassing framework of oppression, also compels one outwards, to think of gender, class, and minority justice, and to form alliances. While these voices may now be a “counterpublic”, drowned out in the din of powerful interest groups, the “ultimate aim is to be the public,” says Bharathan.
Source – TOI