A large section of journalists come from privileged sections: Tejpal

Democracy meant different things to different people and the concept of democracy varied between the perceptions. In India the cry is over democracy not facilitating greater access for deprived sections to resources while in Pakistan the attempt is to get more democracy and greater opportunities to be heard.

A session on “Dissent and democracy” at the Jaipur Literature Festival debated the voices of dissent, the role of civil society, the media and the State in the present form of democracy. The panel of social activist Aruna Roy, Pakistani author Ayesha Jalal, activist from Jharkhand Dayamani Barla and writer Ashok Vajpeyi, felt that though democracy empowered the downtrodden, their real participation was still missing. The session was moderated by The Hindu Editor Siddarth Varadarajan.

Ms. Roy said one should look at democracy in the larger context of electoral identities. While there was a hierarchy in governance and problem solving, the essentials are being guaranteed. The people in India's rural areas are aware of their empowerment through voting. “The poor have won. The electoral democracy is in place. I live in villages and people tell me that they want to vote in the elections to the panchayats, Assembly and to Parliament. They say they can at least choose their representatives,” she noted.

As for dissent, Ms. Roy felt the rights are protected through laws but when it is not convenient to those in power, they are denied.

Ms. Jalal said in Pakistan the long history of authoritarianism has brought about more dissent. “There seems to be a lot of dissent but there are groups which are not heard,” she pointed out. “It is not just the right to dissent but it is all about being able to be heard,” she said.

Mr. Vajpeyi said more than the media, Indian literature — especially Hindi literature — theatre and art contained expressions of dissent but unfortunately that is not heard. “There are a small number of people who get a hearing. The voices of others go unheard,” he noted.

Talking in the context of people's struggles Ms. Dayamani said the media which used to wholeheartedly support the causes of the oppressed was not any more doing it as the sector was increasingly getting corporatised.

Journalist Tarun Tejpal blamed the Indian media for its scant concern for the causes of those denied justice. “The journalists in India do not focus on injustices,” he said pointing out instances like that of Binayak Sen, who was jailed for months and Soni Sori, also from Chhattisgarh, who is presently in jail for alleged proximity to the Maoists.

Ms. Roy also strongly spoke in favour of reservation. Responding to a question from the audiences on the quota issues, she said 5000 years of oppression could not be remedied in just 50 years.

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