“We are trying to be the voice of the voiceless. This is what B.R. Ambedkar imagined his press’s purpose to be,” states Sujat Ambedkar. From a young age, this Political Science graduate with a diploma in Journalism has held Babasaheb Ambedkar, his great grandfather’s beliefs in high regard. And in an attempt to translate them into a medium accessible to a large number of young people, this 23-year-old is spearheading the digital publication arm of Prabudh Bharat, a newspaper that Ambedkar started in 1956.
‘Prabudh Bharat’ translates into ‘Enlightened India’ and the newspaper came at a time when India was just awakening in its new found freedom. A constitution was in place, but several laws and policies were still slowly taking shape. The media was being heralded as the fourth pillar of democracy, but B.R. Ambedkar was smart enough to recognize the gaps. He was well aware of the status of the Dalits, the mass prevalence of untouchability and the atrocities against the minorities. Their side of the story almost never made it to the papers and thus he used the press as his scrutiny. During his lifetime, Ambedkar established several newspapers and magazines. In 1930, he started a journal called ‘Janata (The People)’. Its name was changed to Prabudh Bharat, after 26 years– a move that came very close to Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism. This paper was a direct reflection of the social movements happening in the country at that time.
Almost 62 years later, not much has changed. Opinions on the matter of caste are aplenty, our country’s insidious caste problem refuses to be acknowledged by many and is often ignored. Whether it’s an elite Delhi Jazz Club being held accountable for their casteism or Dalits from Gujarat refusing to dispose of carcasses after the Una atrocity, the writing on the wall (and in the sewers) is clear– people no longer want to adhere to an oppressive Brahmanical system that doesn’t afford so many with dignity. We are unable to claim, as so many do, that the caste system doesn’t exist any longer, and look the revolution dead in the eye. Prabudh Bharat’s comes at a time when upper-class right-wing extremism slowly solidifies itself in the country. The need of this website is now, more than ever.
“We have been uncomfortable with the way mainstream media has reported on the issues of the minorities. It made a mockery of the Bhima-Koregaon battle. Moreover, the minorities only make it to the news when there is either an atrocity against them or when the matter of reservation is churned up. What about our culture and achievements? What about our history and legacy? Don’t they merit being reported by mainstream media houses?” questions Sujat, stating that these are the gaps he wants to fill with the website that shares the same voice of the newspaper.
After B.R. Ambedkar’s death in December 1956, the newspaper, unable to sustain itself stopped its circulation. Thereafter many attempts were made to revive it, but all in vain. The Wire reported that Ambedkar’s son Yashwant tried to keep the newspaper afloat till 1960, but eventually, it shut down. Attempts were again made to revive the newspaper in the 1980s and 1990, but each time it could not be sustained beyond a few months. Subsequently, in 2017, Yashwant’s son and Sujat’s father, Prakash Ambedkar was able to revive the newspaper successfully. The Marathi fortnightly, today sells over 28,000 copies across Maharashtra. The website was launched this year on 14 April, B.R. Ambedkar’s 127th birth anniversary.
Though the website is still in its nascent stage, one of its biggest strengths is that it is bilingual with no constraints on space. “Through English, we are able to cut across the nation and have found loyal readers in UP, Rajasthan and Delhi as well,” states Sujat. Ambedkar’s ideas translate well into the Editorial policy of Prabudh Bharat’s website. Though objective in their reportage, they pursue their opinion and feature pieces through the lens of an Ambedkarite, pointing out how caste subtly makes its way into events that shape the nation. A strong example of this is their piece on the Kathua rape case that broke down the politics of Jammu and Kashmir, the Bakarwal community’s place in the state while also highlighting how rape is the favourite tool of the patriarchy. Prabudh Bharat’s website also has a section on Gender that highlights the inadequacy of Brahmanical Feminism and also discusses sex and sexuality. Amongst reporting current events, they also cover books on Dalit history, culture and politics and their representation in the media.
Almost all of Prabudh Bharat’s team comprises exclusively of Ambedkarites – which is almost a prerequisite to joining their Editorial. How does this then, translate into objectivity, especially when Sujat’s father Prakash heads the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, a Dalit political party. Though Sujat does confess that the newspaper sometimes ends up being a mouthpiece for the party’s ideologies, he states that all the people in their team, despite them being Ambedkarites, come from different backgrounds which gives them a wider outlook over things. “Our main focus is not reportage but opinions. We can’t be objective here. There is a genuine need of covering Dalit issues, the way we cover it,” adds Sujat who has written for Scroll.in and worked for Pune Mirror in the past.
Though comprising Ambedkarites, Prabudh Bharat does not necessarily only cater to them. “Our content is for anyone who thinks of themselves as an Indian first and believes in the Constitution and I believe there are several people like those, especially youngsters on the go who consume all their information online,” Sujat tells us. But just how difficult is it to successfully run a media house in a country where the voices of minorities have always been muffled? For Prabudh Bharat, the challenges, though aplenty, do not stem from upper-class right-wing extremism. “We haven’t face any backlash yet. I don’t think we will. All our opinions are backed by facts and stats. Our priority is improving our distribution numbers and managing finances, which is our biggest challenge right now,” he states.
As the newspaper and the website alike slowly makes its place in the media felt, a silent revolution is waged. To be an ‘Enlightened India’ someday is a utopian thought, but the least we can hope for is a more inclusive and secular India through a platform like Prabudh Bharat.
You can visit the website of Prabudh Bharat here.
Feature Image Courtesy: Forward Press
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