"The time is ours. Media can, but history will not write us off.”

Protests against SCST Act dilution Dalit activists angered by TN medias apathyDalit activists at a protest against the dilution of SC/ST Act in Chennai recently.
news Media Wednesday, April 25, 2018 - 16:54

In the first week of April, a story in The Hindu sought to explore why Tamil Nadu didn’t flare up against the dilution of certain sections of the SC/ST Act by a recent Supreme Court ruling, when agitations were raging across North India. Quite understandably, with the State’s preoccupation over Cauvery issue, the focus on SC/ST Act couldn’t gain centre-stage. But with Dalits constituting over 20% of Tamil Nadu’s population, the issues that affect them have never been able to find their deserving space in the mainstream. On April 24, this shameful history, repeated itself, with untiring monotony.

In an unprecedented turn of events, six major Dalit groups, including political party Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, came together to demonstrate against the dilution of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, but the mainstream media in Tamil Nadu failed to take note. (The Hindu had published a report).

After participating in the protest that had tens of thousands of people turn up, Tamil poet Sukirtharani had this to post on her Facebook:

I protested for Eelam.

They called me a Tamil woman.

I protested against the sand mining

They called me a Tamil woman.

I protested against the nuclear plants

They called me a Tamil woman.

I protested for Jallikattu

They called me a Tamil woman.

I protested against the NEET

They called me a Tamil woman.

I protested against liquor

They called me a Tamil woman.

I protested against methane

They called me a Tamil woman.

I protested for Cauvery

They called me a Tamil woman.

I protested against Sterlite

They called me a Tamil woman.

I protested to safeguard the SC/ST Act.

They called me a Paraichi

(Paraiyar is a Dalit sub-sect in Tamil Nadu. Paraichi is the term for a woman from the sect)

Poor media coverage

While social media was flooded with photos and posts from the protest gathering, mainstream newspapers had either avoided it or tucked it in the inner pages. “Even those that had carried the news, faulted it for disrupting traffic,” says Gowthama Sanna, deputy general secretary of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK). “The visual media too had either avoided it or made a passing mention.”

“We have reasons to believe that the media had toed the Centre’s line since we were directly protesting the dilution of SC/ST Act. It is evident that every media has its own agenda and they only tried to create negative impact when something as significant as this happens,” Sanna rues.

He pointed to the Jallikattu protest in 2017 when there was no murmur about ‘traffic issues’ or ‘disruption of normal life.’ “I am not saying the protest is wrong, but why is the outrage selective?” he asks.

Caste bias in media

Stalin Rajangam, Madurai based Dalit scholar concurs. “When Thol Thirumavalavan (the founder of VCK) speaks on general issues like Cauvery or Federalism, he gains a greater acceptance. But when he speaks on Dalit issues, he is left to speak on his own. VCK of course cannot be narrowed down just as a Dalit party but the party is born as a reaction to the society’s prejudices towards Dalits. It obviously cannot move away from its basic tenets.”

Stalin faults the mainstream media for failing to convert the Dalit issues as mainstream issues, “More often than not, parties like VCK had to make a compromise on common issues to be accepted, to be reckoned with.  In this case, the media should have approached the protest as a mainstream issue. Like always, they have failed to.”

Sanna feels the caste structure in the media houses could be a factor. “It is not just about Brahmins. Even the non-Brahmin middle caste employees in Tamil Media have strong caste prejudices. This needs to be countered on an urgent basis.”

Seething with anger, Sukirtharani says: “It is historic that six Dalit leaders have come together on one stage to protest something that is very dangerous. It was a sea of protesters holding blue flags. It was an uprising that gave me, gave a lot of us, so much hope. But except for Velicham Television (partly run by VCK), no other media house cared to telecast it. I know such an uprising and solidarity would leave several sleepless in Tamil Nadu. But the time is ours. Media can, but history will not write us off.”

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