Speakers at a State-level workshop on “Role of media in strengthening Scheduled Castes and women’s leadership” here on Tuesday expressed concern over “politics of exclusion” and absence of legal safeguards which had led to elimination of under-privileged sections from the mainstream polity and unceasing discrimination against them.

Journalists, academicians, activists and representatives of civil society groups said while addressing the half-day event that no political party was serious about bringing Dalits and women to the frontline leadership and the inclusion of these sections in universal adult franchise continued to be a neglected area for the State machinery.

The Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) organised the workshop as part of its ongoing project for strengthening the SCs and women’s leadership in the Panchayati Raj and urban local bodies.

The project aims at increasing the number of Dalits and women contesting elections and improving the quality of their leadership.

A study report on “Democratic rights of Dalits: Violation in local government elections” was released at the workshop to highlight the gravity of poll-related violence against Dalits and denial of equal rights to both Dalit candidates and Dalit voters. It listed 37 forms of aggression faced by Dalit candidates and 47 by Dalit voters.

K. S. Tomar, Senior Coordinating Editor, Hindustan Times, said the media had a duty to apprise the policy-makers of the pathetic situation of Dalits and women at the grassroots to enable them to take measures to improve their lot.

He said the journalists working in the rural areas could factually report the incidents of bias, prejudices and bigotry and contribute to the empowerment of these sections.

Sanjeev Bhanawat, Head of the Centre for Mass Communication at Rajasthan University, said steps were needed to improve the presence of Dalit and women journalists in both the mainstream and alternative media to bring depth to the coverage of issues relating to them. “The creative talent of young Dalits and women for development communication is yet to be fully harnessed,” he added. Sunny Sebastian of The Hindu said an “affirmative space” was required for ensuring proper coverage of under-privileged sections in the present age of “media packages”.

Centre for Dalit Rights patron P. L. Mimroth said the political parties, which field Dalits and women from the reserved seats out of legal compulsion, should allow them to contest general seats as well to ensure their empowerment. State Chief Electoral Officer R. K. Jain said the Election Commission regularly receives reports about threats, intimidation and violence against Dalits during polls and felt that media persons by their follow-up stories could help in implementation of legal provisions to prevent such incidents.