Bhima Koregaon and the Savarna Gaze

The absence of Dalits in the newsroom can't be any more evident.

ByRajesh Rajamani
Bhima Koregaon and the Savarna Gaze
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It is very often a dreadful task to read anything on caste in the mainstream media. Filled with journalists soaked in caste privilege, Big Media either doesn’t get caste or refuses to get it. So it wasn’t surprising that in the aftermath of the attack on Dalits in Bhima Koregaon and the protests that followed, a section of journalists and commentators produced plenty of cringe-worthy arguments.

The top spot is certainly tied between Vivek Agnihotri and Abhijit Majumder for their now-viral tweets. Agnihotri, filmmaker and columnist, wrote a passionate tweet about how the caste pyramid has been inverted because (oh! well) supposedly a Dalit person was travelling in business class 1A while Agnihotri Highness was seated at 26B. Oh! Wait! 26B? B? Ah! Karma is a middle seat and he truly deserved it. If not for the tweet, then at least for all those terrible movies he forced upon us.

Majumder, Managing Editor of Mail Today, on the other hand, wrote a foolproof tweet about how he is a Kshatriya when he fights for his rasagulla, a Vaishya when he sells things on OLX, a Shudra when he wipes his phone screen and… I am of course exaggerating, but you get the drift, right?

In CNN-News18‘s Epicentre With Marya Shakil, she maintained a serious face and asked rather loudly “Has Dalit assertion triggered a caste war in Fadnavis’ state?” Ehh! What? First of all, what happened in Bhima Koregaon is a case of “caste atrocity” and not the ridiculously labelled “caste war”. If you cared to look up Wikipedia… wait! Let me do that for you.

Wikipedia says, “War is a state of armed conflict between states or societies”. So clearly, an attack by Hindutva groups on peacefully gathered Dalits cannot be labelled that. So dear CNN-News18, whatever you are smoking, please share it with the rest of us. Or at least, reveal your dealer’s WhatsApp number.

In India Today‘s Newsroom, Rahul Kanwal pondered if caste politics still has a place in the 21st century. Arrey, bhai! Caste is still there in 21st century, no? So politics around it will also exist, no? Also, Dalits asserting against the oppressive caste system is not caste politics. It is anti-caste politics! Why are you not getting this, bhai? Also, please don’t jump and run around so much in the studio during the show. It makes me slightly dizzy.

And for some reason, it appears that no one has told Arnab Goswami that the Gujarat elections are over. He seems to still retain an unhealthy obsession over Jignesh Mevani and in a show about the attack on Dalits in Bhima Koregaon, Goswami goes on and on about Mevani. God! Why does he always have to deflect entire discussions in such needless directions? Sigh! It is not without reason that people lovingly call his show “The Penile Monologues”.

Naresh Fernandes, Scroll’s editor, shared a report on Bhima Koregaon by Mridula Chari on his social media account and called it “A rigorous ground report”. A detailed report it was, yes. But it still went on to call Ambedkar a “Dalit icon”. So naturally, it was very tempting to wonder if Mr Fernandes has ever published rigorous reports; on Jawaharlal Nehru or MK Gandhi where they were called “Brahmin or Baniya icons”!

The fact is, the lack of understanding on caste is not only revealed through ridiculous tweets by the likes of Majumder or Agnihotri, but also through such thoughtless labelling. The best that the writer could come up with for a multi-faceted leader like BR Ambedkar is that he was a “Dalit icon”. What can this be if not the “Savarna gaze”? Or would you insist that I call this the “rigorous Savarna gaze”?

After the Mumbai bandh, almost every newspaper cried over the traffic snarls. Hello Bro, really? The most oppressed in the society take a rally out to protest against the violence meted out to them and all that you can think of is the traffic? How sensitive are we, bro? Like, seriously?

Also, can someone please transfer all these journalists to Bengaluru. Bandh or no bandh, the traffic doesn’t move in Namma Bengaluru! Maybe that will normalise the traffic woes in their life. The most awful piece, however, must be by Kavitha Iyer and Sagar Rajput for The Indian Express who made sweeping statements that criminalised children who participated in the protest. But on the brighter side, their piece made those complaining about the traffic appear like angels.

I can go on and on about a few dozen other pieces. But then, I might only be repeating myself. The extremely appalling writings and TV shows on the incident reveal how media houses are poorly equipped to talk about caste. Or to be precise, it exposes how media houses are only filled with upper caste journalists who cannot get rid of their Savarna gaze. The absence of Dalits in the newsroom can’t be anymore evident. Instead of bringing in diversity to their newsrooms, media houses seem to be increasingly attempting two shrewd but roundabout tricks.

The first is to groom a breed of Brahmin/Savarna journalists who could mimic a certain combination of anger and empathy and sound like Dalits in their writings. This certainly seems to come handy in covering Dalit-related issues. The second trick is to outsource the writing to Dalit writers who aren’t employees of the media house. This way, they need not be given a full-time role but their contribution can be utilised whenever required. But even here, the Dalit writers who are sought often tend to be those whose opinions support the already existing Brahmanical arguments.

So it wasn’t surprising to read writer Anand Teltumbde’s piece in The Wire. Teltumbde’s pieces unfailingly do three things. 1. Mildly criticise Ambedkar 2. Mock the Dalit movement 3. Label it as identity politics and generously rubbish it. And in his piece on Bhima Koregaon too, he does exactly the same. The only other person who repeatedly delivered the same thing over and over again to his fans who lovingly lapped it up must be Shah Rukh Khan.

If media houses have to move beyond this sorry state, they should first stop looking at caste as something that is restricted to reservations and Dalit atrocities. And try to willingly see how caste works in each part of their own organisation.

When The Hindu sent a circular that only vegetarian food should be consumed in their canteen, weren’t they forcing the Iyengar caste practice on all their employees? Well, of course, someone might point out that most of their employees are Iyengars or Iyers, so it shouldn’t ideally matter. But hey, isn’t that the real problem? I mean, when caste is thriving in your own organisation, why would I be surprised when it spills on your writing too!

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