On #BheemaKoregaon, Media Is Criminalising Dalits: 4 Things That Are Wrong With The Coverage

Asim Ali

The coverage of the Mumbai bandh and the Bhima-Koregoan violence perfectly exemplifies how mainstream media reflects, and reinforces, an upper-caste view of society. This is quite natural, considering that the media, like all other institutions, is dominated by upper castes. There are no more than 8 Dalits in all of the English media, according to an Al Jazeera article, from a population of 20 crores. Just to point four ways in which the media coverage of Bhima-Koregoan and Mumbai bandhs was distorted by upper-caste biases and prejudices-

1) Calling the Bhima-Koregoan violence as ‘clashes’, instead of pre planned attacks by right-wing upper caste groups, when videos clearly show saffron roped goons pelting Dalits with sticks and stones. And when villagers allege that right wing groups in Pune were making inciting speeches against the event, three to four days prior to the event.

2. The near whitewash of the violence in Bhima-Koregoan by the media, where one Dalit died and scores others were injured, and several cars torched( many more than in Mumbai). But the disruption of road and rail traffic by protestors in Mumbai elicited breathless coverage and primetime debates. The middle class distaste of bandhs and protests is a natural consequence of their privileged status, pampered as they are by the media and politicians. However, bandhs and protests are often the only resort left for the voiceless and the oppressed, the only means to shake a deeply apathetic society.

3 The efforts to portray the Bhima-Koregoan celebrations as incited by elements bent on dividing society. Times Now and Republic are running with stories on how Jignesh Mewani and Umar Khalid were among those present at the event. This not only whitewashes history( the event is being commemorated for 200 years, celebrating the victory of a Mahar company of East India soldiers over a large Peshwa division), but more importantly, denies any agency to Dalits. For a historically oppressed community, there are many valid reasons to commemorate this event; they are definitely not blind sheep, perhaps unlike the viewers of Times Now and Republic.

4 The framing of any lower-caste assertion as divisive, backward, or anti Indian, while framing their own tacit support for the continuation of a deeply unequal status quo in terms of unity, progress and nationalism. The anchors and their audiences are prone to shrug and wonder why a celebration of something that happened in 1818 is relevant in 2018. They should probably wonder why this is the first time they are hearing of the Bhima-Koregoan commemoration, an event attended each year by lakhs of Dalits, when a movement attended by tens of thousands of middle class Delhites in 2011 had apparently become the Second Independence movement. The privilege of the upper castes is so entrenched and comprehensive, that it has become invisible, to the upper castes themselves.

  • edsa0601

    Congrats, Asim, for the well written article. As a non-Hindu, I am amazed at the crucial role played by caste and the horrific indignities suffered by the Dalits for centuries. The so called upper castes just want to hang onto their unearned privileged status and notions of justice and compassion apparently don’t bather them..
    Why don’t more well meaning Hindus rally on a national scale and campaign for the elimination of caste altogether. After all, the system is not founded on complex rational principles or intricate philosophy.
    Rather it is based on some ridiculous myths in which (according to the Rig Veda) some primeval man called Purusha gave rise to the four castes from different parts of his body, the feet producing the Sudras.
    The Dalits are not even mentioned. How can anyone take this silly legend seriously?
    But as VS Naipaul has written in an early essay: Magic is a Hindu need. It simplifies the world and complements the intellectual failure – less a failure of the individual intellect than the deficiency of a closed civilisation, ruled by myth and ritual.

  • Devaki Khanna

    Re: the anti-Dalit coverage by our “reputed” news organizations–not surprising if they fail to hire Dalit journalists. The subjects covered by cable news channels tend to be extremely sensationalized and presented in a shrill, semi-hysterical style–“the nation wants to know.”