India: Dalit Camera – Media for the Marginalised

Dalit” is a designated name for a group of communities in India who were historically considered to be “untouchables” as they either held jobs that were considered to be very menial in Indian society, such as shoe making/repair, butchering, washing, sweeping, waste and animal carcass disposal, manual scavenging, cremation etc., or belonged to certain marginalized tribes that consumed beef.

These people were considered socially inferior and faced economic, political and social discrimination – to the extent that they were even denied a status in the traditional Indian caste-rank (varna) system (though they had their own hierarchy of sub-castes or jatis).

In his time, Mahatma Gandhi tried to popularize the term “Harijan” (Children of God) to collectively refer to these communities in an effort towards social inclusion. However, over the years, this name has come to be seen as condescending/depreciating.  Today, the group collectively asserts its identity as “Dalit”, which literally means ‘oppressed’ or ‘exploited’.

A girl of an untouchable community dancing a traditional Indian dance. Jaisalmer, India. Image by Franck Metois. Copyright Demotix (30/6/2012)

A girl of an untouchable community dancing a traditional Indian dance. Jaisalmer, India. Image by Franck Metois. Copyright Demotix (30/6/2012)

While untouchability has been abolished under the Indian Constitution, the Indian Government recognizes the historical disadvantages suffered by these communities and not only protects them by including them under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes categories but also practices the policy of  reservationas a form of affirmative action for their social and economic upliftment.

In the past decades, there have been numerous successes towards minimizing the discrimination against these marginalized groups and the traditional prejudices appear to have largely disappeared in urban areas and in the public sphere. India saw the democratic election of K. R. Narayanan, a Dalit, as the nation's President. However, discrimination against Dalits still exist in many rural areas and in the private sphere.

Instances of everyday discrimination is quite ubiquitous, but they are rarely documented with focus and in-depth coverage in India's mainstream news media. B. Ravichandran of the Dalit Camera, an YouTube Channel, writes:

One year ago, a Dalit (Arunthathiyar) woman Panchayat President was brutally attacked. She did a remarkable job in her Panchayat as a Panchayat President. This was the fourth Dalit Panchayat President who was attacked. She is the only one to survive. The entire Arunthathiyar movement was protesting. I also wanted to contribute to the protest, so I made a documentary [The video below: Ms. Krishnaveni, Panchayat President, Victim of Caste system]. That was the beginning of what is today known as Dalit Camera.

Dalit Camera started to upload videos depicting contributions of the grass-roots level activists and also covering various issues concerning the Dalits, Adivasis, Bahujans, Muslims, other minorities etc. A Facebook note dated 6th July, 2012, reveals:

When Dalit camera was started, the channel had around 4,000 viewers and now, it has crossed 50,000 viewers within few months. All the credit for this growth in popularity goes to the various ground-level activists, who never hesitated to give exclusive interviews to Dalit Camera, ignoring even the mainstream media. Dalit Camera has grown in popularity also because of many friends who keep watching and encouraging the work.

The video channel currently has 137 subscribers and about 75000 video views.

Ravichandran continues:

When Ambedkar statues were desecrated in AP, Dalit and Bahujan leaders were giving press statements which no mainstream media covered fully or extensively. At that point, I recorded an entire press conference and uploaded, to make up for the casteist myopia our mainstream media always exhibits in covering Dalit events. Since then, I have started to record and attend many press conferences organized by Dalits.

In the same article, he explains:

We want to categorically stress that Dalit Camera has not contributed anything new to the Dalit movement. It just took the videos of activists on the ground and also took interviews of people. In that sense, Dalit camera does the work of a chronicler and that of a postman.

Dalit Camera visits a Dalit colony in Kottayam Kerala, along with Prof. Yesudasan, English professor at Kottayam's CMS College.

Outlook Columnist S. Anand recognizes the internet-savvy, and mobile connected Dalit middle class that is making its presence felt:

Still largely kept away from mainstream media, the private sector and our universities—which have undisguised disdain for Ambedkar’s greatest weapon, reservation—the Dalits, in India and abroad, have fashioned their own websites, mailing lists and blogs such as Round Table Conference, Dalit & Adivasi Students’ Portal and Savari, a YouTube channel called Dalit Camera, besides scores of Facebook groups. They no longer depend on corporate media that takes one month to report.

Dalit Camera is mobilizing funds using social media to purchase a professional level camera with an external mike. Here is their Facebook page.

Aparna Ray also contributed to the post.


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