Journalistic Legacy of Babasaheb Ambedkar
Editor-in-Chief of the esteemed Desh Doaba and the Ambedkar Times, Prem Chumber, brought to my notice, an obscure facet of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s persona, his love and recognition of the intent and efficacy of media and press in generating public awareness and debate which are essential for the larger interests of a healthy polity and society.The mention was in view of the forthcoming anniversary of Babasaheb’s first media outfit “The Mook Nayak” – Leader of the Dumb, falling on January 31. The Mook Nayak was started in January, 1920 by the visionary leader, a century ago. I thought of writing this piece with a view to touch upon the cursory information available on the journalistic fervor of Babasaheb Ambedkar, not as an expert but as a layman.
Babasaheb Ambedkar launched his first media venture “The Mook Nayak, a century ago on January 31, 1920. Realizing the importance of public communication, he started a printing press by raising donations in Aprilcommunicator Prof. Vivek Kumar of Jawaharlal Nehru University has put the things in their right perspective “Ambedkar has not been evaluated in totality. He has either been reduced to a Dalit icon or the maker of the constitution.” and added “He decided to have his own newspaper, because he felt that the mainstream media was biased; singularly focused on freedom struggle, and was not reporting atrocities on Dalits.”
It goes without saying that Dr. Ambedkar was one of the best read intellectuals of his times and remains so even today. His liberal education and interaction in the developed countries of both Europe and the Americas helped in fully recognizing the potent role of media and press to shape and set a meaningful public discourse particularly with regard to his agenda and vision to address the amelioration of socially and economically weaker sections of the society based on the lofty ideals of equality, liberty and justice. The first step in this regard came with the launch of the Mook Nayak on January 31, 1920 on his return from abroad. This endeavor could not last long and was closed after about three years. The reasons were obvious – lack of financial resources and Babasaheb’s on and off educational pursuits abroad. Later, he founded three more newspapers – Bahishkrut Bharat (1927-1929), Janata (1930-56), and Prabuddha Bharat (1956). He was directly involved in the editorial management of the first two newspapers, Mook Nayak and Bahishkrit Bharat. From 1930 onwards, he delegated the task to his most important colleagues, such as, DevraoNaik, B.R. Kadrekar, G.N. Sahastrabuddhe, R.D. Bhandare, and B.C. Kamble. Interestingly, just to register that Babasaheb’s approach to addresss the ills of the society was not narrow; Devrao Naik, B.R. Kadrekar and G.N.Sahastrabuddh were not Dalits.
The newspapers associated with Ambedkar are repositories of vast information on the history of Dalit political activism which was, unfortunately, completely ignored by his opponents and Babasaheb’s contribution to free and fair journalism never got due appreciation. S.N. Sahu who was the Press Secretary to President K.R. Narayanan rightly wrote in an article in the Tribune “His journalism was the journalism of regeneration and reconstruction to unchain the exploited and uplift the excluded. The very titles of the newspapers he established testify to his passion and ardour for journalism for social justice and regeneration. The titles, such as the Mook Nayak (Leader of the Dumb), Bahiskrit Bharat (Excluded India), Samata (Equality), Prabuddha Bharat (Enlightened India) and Janata (People) brought out his vision and the content of his editorials flowed from his action which aimed at progressive social transformation”.
Babasaheb Ambedkar was one of the votaries of free and fair media. He stipulated all the lofty ideals of freedom of thought and expression in the constitution of India. But later he realized that the media was increasingly becoming a tool of the rich and powerful and bemoaned “Corporate control of media was the bane of our times” and said “Journalism in India was once a profession. It has now become a trade. It has not more moral function than the manufacture of soap. It does not regard itself as the responsible adviser of the public." It is a matter of regret that media in India is increasingly succumbing to the dictates of the money bags and vested political forces. The journalistic legacy of Babasaheb Ambedkar is a potent one to address the socio-economic issues to transform and reform the society. To prove this I quote from one of his articles published in the Mook Nayak and as quoted by Dr B.P. Mahesh Chandra Guru is professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Mysore “It was not enough for India to be an independent country. She must guarantee equal status in matters religious, social, economic and political, to all classes, offering every man an opportunity to rise in the scale of life and creating conditions favourable to his advancement. In another article Ambedkar wrote that the Swaraj in which there were no fundamental rights guaranteed for the depressed classes would not be a Swaraj but a new form of slavery.”Unfortunately, these issues are still alive and required to be addressed head on both by the society and polity. As Ashok Das of the Dalit Dastak has rightly said, “Ambedkar gave voice to the voiceless through Mooknayak. His journalism has inspired thousands of youngsters, who are setting up media enterprises in different languages all over the country.”
With this, I conclude with the hope that Babasaheb’s potent legacy would ultimately prevail and set the desired standards for the Indian media to be a free and fair organ as the fourth estate of the democratic edifice so laboriously stipulated and visualized by our forefathers.