Hear these original inhabitants

Are skewed priorities and perceptions ruling media choices?

January 11, 2015 12:37 am | Updated 12:37 am IST

UNHEARD VOICES: Adivasi protests under way in front of the Secretariat in Thiruvanathapuram recently. File photo: C. Ratheesh kumar

UNHEARD VOICES: Adivasi protests under way in front of the Secretariat in Thiruvanathapuram recently. File photo: C. Ratheesh kumar

Newspapers, television channels, the Internet and social media platforms were recently flooded with opinions and comments on the latest Cultural Revolution of sorts happening in Kerala, dubbed the Kiss of Love. Nilpusamaram , or standing-up protest, organised by sections of the State’s Adivasis also happened simultaneously, but with hardly any fanfare or national media coverage. The ‘Kiss’ campaign gathered everyone’s attention, while the Adivasis’s issues did not. Was that because of the media, with their own biases at play?

There is no doubt that issues of moral policing that the ‘Kiss’ campaign was really up against, is a scourge that needs to be eliminated. But is that as big a problem compared to the multiple maladies faced by Adivasis? The concerns of Adivasis encompass problems of land, health, sanitation, education, human rights, unemployment, separatism and so on. They are not limited to Attappady in Kerala but to the whole of India. Be it the Muthuvans of southern India, the Bhils of central India, the Garo of northeastern India or the Dhodias of western India, their problems and issues are more or less the same. For the media, are these issues not big enough to give them space and time slots? Why are the media by and large indifferent thus to the issues facing Adivasis? Does this have anything to do with the history of the media in India?

The history of the media in India dates back to the 18th century, in 1780 with Bengal Gazette . Much later came the visual media and the Internet. A number of newspapers were started during the nationalist movement with political objectives and to influence mass opinion based on those objectives.

Politics continued to grab the main headlines in newspapers even in the post-Independence era; it drew fanfare and boosted circulation. The visual media also carry lots of political content just as in the case of the print media, with an eye on ratings and numbers. This may be the reason that even today the media run after issues that draw much public attention irrespective of their real relevance and even veracity. The content of newspapers has been changing dramatically. In the quest for readership, celebrity gossip and pictures are gaining space even in traditional newspapers.

Wikipedia refers to Adivasis as “the original and autochthonous inhabitants of a given region.” They were the original landowners. The Bhil Rebellion (1822), the Gond Rebellion (1860), the Santhal Revolt (1885) and the Kuki Uprising (1917), are some of their struggles.

The post-Independence period has seen a slew of legislative reforms as well as development processes which took a toll on their land, rights and life and made them cornered to oblivion. But still they find some space, if not headlines, in the newspapers occasionally. The pathetic state of tribal literacy and their economics may have stopped them from starting their own newspapers, but it had never stopped them from protesting. It is in their blood to protest.

The media needs to be more egalitarian. In our land where democracy is hailed, the voice of the minorities needs to be heard, without political dimensions. It is the responsibility of the media to make them heard.

Be it by running special programmes in visual media outlets or by running supplements or by dedicating space in print editions, efforts must go on to represent issues of the tribal people and the Adivasis, our original inhabitants. It is not just for the media, it is the duty of all of us to make hear the voice of the unheard.

Amartya Sen, in The Argumentative Indian , mentions “the tradition of arguments and disputations has never been confined to any exclusive part of Indian population”. Yes it is, the true meaning of democracy itself.


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