*Caste in the newsroom?** *

*Caste discrimination in the newsroom? Rubbish, say most upper caste
journalists in Uttar Pradesh. It's all over, say backward caste journalists.

* *

*Shivam Vij in **Lucknow***

How many journalists in the Lucknow office of *Dainik Jagran*, India's
largest selling newspaper, belong to the Schedule Castes or the 'Other
Backward Castes'?

"I have never counted and I will never count. Caste is not an issue in this
organisation," says Dilip Awasthi, a senior editor with *Dainik Jagran*. But
a backward caste journalist says that *Dainik Jagran *in Lucknow in
particular has  been run as a "Brahminical paper".

Unlike Awasthi, backward caste journalists can count their numbers on the
fingertips. Ask them and they start listing names — an exercise which some
upper-caste scribes are also able to undertake. There are not even half a
dozen Dalit journalists in Lucknow, most of whom do not handle the political
beat, and no Dalit journalist works for an English paper. As for OBC's, you
will find at the most one in every paper.

Why are the numbers so few?

"They don't go to schools!" says Awasthi*.*

And the ones who do? Has he never met a single SC/OBC journalist who's
talented enough for a job?

"Never. They can't write a single sentence properly."

Is there deliberate discrimination against lower caste candidates who apply
for employment?

"I refuse employment to 15 people every day, and 14 of them are upper caste
Hindus. All that matters is talent. Go to media schools in the city and ask
them how many Dalits or OBC's are enrolled with them. The caste situation in
the media is no different from what it is in society."

Off the record, a Dalit journalist alleges: "I was denied employment by a
paper because the editor said I wrote like the spokesperson of the Bahujan
Samaj Party (BSP), which is not true. That their reporters write like
spokespersons of [the upper-caste dominated] Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is
a non-issue for the paper."

Interestingly, no one has ever heard of employment discrimination against
Muslims in the Lucknow press. In fact it is said that every political bureau
has at least one Muslim in it because it is felt that only a Muslim can get
stories from inside Muslim society. (Since there has never been a
Hindu-Muslim riot in Lucknow, communal relations here are much better than
riot-affected cities.)

"Naturally," says Awasthi of Jagran, "I would like to have a Muslim to cover
Muslims and a woman to cover women's issues."

And a Dalit to cover Dalits?

"But where are they?" he exclaims.

"How is it possible," questions political reporter Kamal Jayant of *Aaj*,
"that in a country with a huge unemployment problem no Dalit comes to them
for a reporter's job?"

"The root of the problem is ownership. When the media is owned by the upper
caste, it has to be dominated by the upper caste," says Kashi Prasad of
Eenadu TV Uttar Pradesh, who does not write his surname, Yadav, in his
visiting card. Journalists belonging to castes that figure at the lower end
of the caste system often hide or change their surnames lest they invite

JP Shukla, Lucknow correspondent of *The Hindu*, very emphatically says
there is no question of any kind of employment discrimination, because: "An
educated Dalit prefers his reserved job in a government office rather than a
hard life as an underpaid stringer with a Hindi daily. And English dailies
take the convent educated lot."

Amit Sharma, Lucknow correspondent of *The Indian Express *denies that there
is employment discrimination, and if the backward caste journalist feels it,
"it could be because of his inner feelings [read: complex] that he belongs
to a lower caste."

Caste here may get inter-twined with class. An upper caste journalist
privately admits that he may unconsciously discriminate on class basis, but
for backward caste aspirants this discrimination is received as casteist. It
is his caste because of which he lacks 'class'.

Amidst all this generalisation, backward caste journalists are not short of
examples. AP Dewan, a Doordarshan reporter who is Dalit by caste, knows two
cases off hand. He remembers one Yogendra Singh who committed suicide
because no paper would give him a job, and how Doordarshan would not even
take one Dharmendra Singh as a free apprentice. The latter, an alumus of
IIMC (Indian Institute of Mass Communications, Delhi), had to forgo the
electronic media and work with *Rashtriya Sahara* in Noida. At the same
time, Dewan claims as President of the now defunct Doordarshan India
Journalists Association, that jobs reserved for backward castes in
Doordarshan have not been filled for years.

Some backward caste journalists, very wary of being quoted, recall how they
personally faced hardships in initially getting employment, as compared to
upper-caste colleagues.

"A Muslim friend called me the other day to arrange a newspaper internship
for her daughter. But I don't recall any backward caste person approaching
me for help in employment," says Ratan Mani Lal, Director of the Jaipuria
Institute of Mass Communications.

"Employment in the private sector is often given on the basis of
connections, and upper caste individuals tend to have connections amongst
upper castes." says Vivek Kumar, who left his job with *The Pioneer *in
Lucknow in 2000 to become an academic. He now teaches at the Centre for the
Study of Social Systems at JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) in Delhi.

The Dalit and the OBC suffer from stereotypes of talent. "It is presumed
that a candidate won't be talented because he is Dalit," says Dewan.

About this tricky issue of talent, Kumar of JNU says: "This is exactly the
same as in reserved jobs for backward castes. First it was 'candidate not
available' and now it is 'candidate not suitable'. And who decides a
candidate's suitability? The upper-caste editor."

So would he support reservation in the private media? "Why not? Reservation
is nothing but equality of opportunity."

The new Congress-led government at the centre has promised to look into the
area of caste-based reservation in the private sector. If and when that
happens, it will affect the media as well, and you may begin to see the
bylines of a greater variety of castes.

That was about employment, but those who do manage to get a job, do they
face discrimination at the work place? Once again upper caste journalists
say an emphatic *no* and backward caste journalists say an emphatic *yes*.

"Between 1996 an '99 I was with *Hindustan*," remembers Kashi Prasad of
E-TV, "I was posted in Sultanpur when the paper established its office
there. As a Yadav I was the only journalist there belonging to a backward
caste. I would sit in the same room as my junior upper caste colleagues, and
local leaders would come and touch their feet and ignore me. So I asked them
to shift to another room." These seemingly petty problems become very
humiliating when an individual goes through them.

Discrimination manifests itself in the form of marginalisation. Backward
caste journalists say they are marginalised not only in places like the
Press Club but also inside the newsroom, where upper caste journalists may
form a closely knit community.

Dewan of Doordarshan claims that in office he is not given basic facilities
like a stenographer or a computer or air-conditioning, which have been given
to journalists junior to him. Is he sure this is because of his caste?
"Absolutely because of that!" he says, "But this is nothing. In the media in
UP Dalits and OBC's face much worse. They are forced to be submissive and
have to quietly endure everything."

Amit Sharma, Lucknow correspondent of *The Indian Express*,* *confirmed that
backward caste journalists in UP face prejudice amongst their fraternity.
"Whatever they say is taken lightly and often ridiculed," he says, "and this
sometimes makes them irritable and affects their self-esteem." Sharma,
however, denies discrimination in employment.

Kashi Prasad of E-TV says, "Not only is there greater discrimination in
districts and small towns, a lot many journalists in Lucknow come from small
town or rural backgrounds. They carry a greater burden of caste than one
would ordinarily perceive in Lucknow."

However, JP Shukla of *The Hindu*, who says he is himself from a rural
background, denies that there is any such thing as caste bias amongst
journalists. Shukla, a Brahmin by caste, says that the primary caste
equation in UP is that of a clash between Dalits and OBC's, and the
upper-castes have no role in it. (During an earlier interview for a story on
*The Hoot*, Shukla had read excerpts from a book of memoirs that he was
writing, in Hindi, which exalted the caste system.) Secondly, says Shukla,
that Maywati and the BSP are such a powerful political tool in UP that nobdu
dares discriminitae against a Dalit.

After the Mandal Commission report of 1991, says Kashi Prasad, "Society was
polarised into those who were for caste-based reservation in government jobs
and those who were against it. Upper caste journalists, seething in anger
about reservations, have been prone to prejudice against backward caste
individuals in the office." There is thus a great need for backward caste
journalists to 'prove' their merit. The problem with this, for one, is that
a backward caste journalist is seen first as belonging to a 'low' caste and
then as an individual.

Pawan Kumar, a Dalit who works as a sub-editor with *Aaj*, says that a
backward caste scribe has to work much harder to be accepted, whereas his
upper caste colleagues would be regularly promoted even when they are not

The claim is buttressed by Vivek Kumar of JNU with the example of a friend
who would file his stories only in his first name. But the day he started
adding his surname Shukla, he was surprised to find his byline on page one
off and on. "Now his name bore the burden of his caste," he says. On the
other hand, Kashi Prasad claims he was not given an independent beat in a
newspaper for years, unlike his upper-caste colleagues.

How caste biases operate in the coverage of caste politics has been
documented earlier by a couple of stories in The Hoot. But apart from
elections, what about the coverage of caste on issues like caste
discrimination in society, cases of caste-based violence, etc.? Are they
given due space? If it's newsworthy, it finds a place in the paper, says,
Jayant of *Aaj*. "Thanks to competition," he says "if one paper doesn't
carry it, another does. But what angle such stories are given may be
problematic in some cases." At the height of the Mandal Commission imbroglio
in 1991, he says, stories of upper caste protests were exaggerated by the
media with an activist intent.

It is very obvious, therefore, that you never find a feature in a UP paper
about caste discrimination in society, the sort that appear in Delhi
editions of papers like *The Indian Express* and *The Hindu*. Vivek Kumar of
JNU says that while at the *Pioneer*, he once interviewed the then UP
Governor Suraj Bhan, a Dalit, and asked him questions on the position of
Dalits in society 48 years after independence. What should have been a
page-one eight-column interview, he says, was reduced to two columns on page
four. Some days later the paper sent another correspondent to interview the
Governor, this time without any 'Dalit angle', and it was right there: eight
columns on page one.

Vijay Dubey of Eenadu TV points out a rift between Thakur and Brahmin
journalists in Gorakhpur over some local issue recently, and other backward
caste journalists readily provide specifics of how a journalist belonging to
a certain caste would often be assigned the task of covering the leader of
that caste. The logic is that caste affinity helps you get a scoop.

But this argument is turned on its head when backward caste journalists are
said to use their caste to get close to politicians and benefit in getting
scoops and other necessities of life. "This is unfortunate branding," says
Dewan of Doordarshan, "Before I helped save Mayawati's life in the 1995
"guest-house" attack on her, no one knew what community I belonged to. But
after that the world around me changed completely. Upper-caste journalists
labelled me a Mayawati stooge and in 1998, got chief minister Mulayam Singh
Yadav to get me transferred out of UP. Later when Mayawati again became CM,
some upper-caste journalists instigated her against me and as a result, she
hasn't spoken to me for 18 months."

Journalists in the English papers may be a little more progressive, but
Kumar of JNU complains that the upper-caste individual can choose to be
anything in the garb of progressiveness.  A source in *The Times of
India *says,
"Caste is always implicit. You are always aware of what is the caste of
which person and what that means in caste hierarchy."

While local English papers remain urban-centric, Hindi papers do cover
grassroots level activities, socio-religious affairs and some amount of
rural reporting also finds space. But in all this, it is an upper-caste
("Brahminical") culture that is reflected; the lives and customs of a
segregated, backward caste society are unimportant.

There is no dialogue over this issue; nobody seems to see the need to give
so much as a patient hearing to the grievances of journalists belonging to
depressed castes. The arrogance with which senior journalists like Awasthi
of *Jagran* dismiss the issue, suggests that a Dalit journalist is *persona
non grata* for them.

Says Vivek Kumar of JNU, "When you live life in your own group you never
think you are excluding anyone. The only time you think there is
discrimination is when Mayawati dismisses you as *Manuwaadi*."

*(Some interviewees were not quoted on request. Shivam Vij runs the Zest
Reading Group <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/zest-india>. Contact:

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