- Media institutions in Chhattisgarh devoid of Adivasis: occupied by Brahminism - December 2, 2019
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In August this year, Oxfam and Newslaundry published a report titled “who tells our stories matters.” The report discusses in detail the social diversity in various (Hindi and English) newspapers, news channels, magazines and online portals. According to the report, out of a 121 decision making positions in these media institutions, a 106 belonged to the upper castes, and there were no Dalits or Adivasis among them. This is not surprising. In 2006, in a study of 37 media institutions, Anil Chamadia of Media Studies Group and Yogendra Yadav of CSDS found that among 315 key positions only one percent of media professionals belonged to a backward caste and none were Dalit or Adivasi. Even 13 years after the publication of this first report, no measures have been taken by media institutions and diversity is almost negligible, they are entirely dominated by upper castes.
While there is a complete absence of Adivasi journalists in national media, even in a state like Chhattisgarh, where 60% of the area is Adivasi dominated; Adivasi journalists don’t even form two percent of the total. The major media institutions in the state are devoid of Adivasis. The Adivasi youth in the past few years have come forward in journalism, but they have fallen prey to intimidation, harassment and attacks by the government.
According to the available information, there are only six Adivasi journalists in the Adivasi dominated Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. They are working under difficult circumstances and constant pressure. The situation is the same in other regions too. In 2015, Adivasi journalist Somaru Nag was arrested under false charges of being a Naxalite. Similarly, in a recent incident, Lingaram Kododi—Soni Sori’s nephew, who suffered torture and abuse at the hands of the police a few years ago—accused security forces of threatning to kill him. Kodopi has been consistently reporting on fake encounters in the name of anti-Naxal operations.
Nag was falsely accused of being part of violent activities of Naxalites and was arrested from the Darbha region. He was acquitted by the court after the police failed to prove charges against him and released in July 2016. Sadly, this traumatic experience affected him so much that he could not return to journalism again.
The situation is so grim that for years there has not been a single Adivasi journalist recognised in the official list of the Chhattisgarh public relations department. A few Adivasi journalists who do write, have not been recognised. If we talk about the statistics, in the seven districts of Bastar, not a single Adivasi journalist has been appointed by the public relations office.
The status of education in Adivasi areas have not improved much over the years and education had been limited as a means to aspire for government jobs. This is why the inclination towards journalism courses in colleges and universities has been relatively less. Those parents amongst Adivasis who have become teachers, doctors or engineers, prefer to send their children for courses similar to theirs. The increasing attacks on journalists is also a reason why there is fear among the Adivasi youth. The harassment of Adivasi journalists like Somaru and Lingaram makes the situation even more difficult.
“You can see the dominance of so called Savarnas in journalism. The mainstream media is completely occupied by them. Forget Adivasis, even Dalits and Bahujans are nowhere to be seen in journalism” Rakesh Darro, a journalist and former student at the Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University, argues. Drawing from his personal experiences at the university, Darro says, “Even though Adivasi students take admission in journalism courses, they either drop out or take up other professions, due to lack of opportunities.”
Historically, the Indian media has been dominated by the capitalist class—who are mostly Savarnas—even before the independence. Mangal Kunjam, an Adivasi journalist, who played a role and was part of conceptualizing India’s movie selection of “Newton” for the Oscars argues, “Adivasi journalists are not given a platform in media. Today’s media is that of capitalists. Can an Adivasi establish a corporate media house? The few journalists who are writing also face threats and repression.” Kunjam further asks: “why has the civil society and their organisations kept silent about threats and attacks on Adivasi journalist Lingaram Kodopi?” He believes that Brahminism is so dominant in the media that even if Adivasi journalists write, they won’t get any space.
According to Bappi Rai, a senior journalist from Dantewada, there are only one or two Adivasi journalists in Bastar. “If there were more Adivasi journalists, they would be able to understand the language and issues of people better and would be able to raise issues to the administration more efficiently. It is really unfortunate that one does not find any Adivasi journalist.” Those who are reporting from Bastar are also working under extreme conditions and challenges, he argues.
Due to the lack of Adivasi journalists, the issues pertaining to Adivasi culture, religion, livelihood and so on do not come in the limelight. It has also been observed over the past few years that some journalists paid by the administration have misreported and written false stories. They have become the mouthpiece of government and it further invisiblizes the real issues. On the other hand, there are many journalists in Bastar without any professional degree and training, and there are often stories of journalists extorting money from Adivasi Sarpanchs in villages.
Anmol Mandavi, an Adivasi student based in Bastar argues, “the reporting in these times should be focused on Adivasi issues, however, that’s not the case. Despite being 32% of population in the state, Adivasi issues have always been on the margins. It is crucial that the media engages with the issues related to provisions under the fifth schedule, sixth schedule and PESA.”
The four major newspapers in Chhattisgarh do not have a single Dalit, Adivasi or Bahujan editor. Therefore, it is not surprising that even if local journalists write stories, they are rarely given space in these media houses. The same is the case with television news channels. Meanwhile, Adivasi journalists are often used as mere “sources” by upper caste journalists.
In a recent incident, daily news paper Dainik Patrika had misrepresented the sacred institution of Koiturs-Gonds, “Gotul,” by describing it as a sex centre. The publication removed the article from their website after protests and opposition from the community. However, this is not the first instance. In anonymity, a Bahujan employee woman told me, “so far I have only seen [upper caste] media being interested in publishing cartoons of mulnivasis, while some sell pictures, some sell their articles.”
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