A letter to The Hindu’s Reader’s Editor

IN Media Practice | 10/10/2006
Surely The Hindu could have made space for Kanshi Ramøs death on its front page, and rustled up an obituary for him?


  Kanshi Ram in "The Hindu" social order

Dear Mr Narayanan

I read with dismay this morning`s Chennai edition of The Hindu (10 October 2006). I was saddened to find the news of BSP founder-leader Kanshi Ram`s death buried at the bottom of Page 14. Not only was it relegated from Page 1, it was given the lowest status on Page 14, perhaps symbolic of the status dalits are meant to enjoy in "The Hindu social order".

True, news priorities are relative and change every day, and North Korea`s nuclear test received priority and occupied a lot of space in most TV bulletins and national newspapers. But national bulletins and newspapers did not jettison Kanshi Ram from the prime time slot/ Page 1. Surely, The Hindu could have made space for Kanshi Ram`s death on its front page, and carried a detailed report inside. What made it worse was that the newspaper, which prides itself on balanced and objective reporting, could not rustle up an obituary for a man who was unarguably the greatest leader to emerge from among Dalits after B.R. Ambedkar. (Kanshi Ram had died early on the morning of 9 October and there was ample time to ready an obit.)

A comparison of the coverage of recent prominent deaths by The Hindu would offer a sobering perspective on some unconscious prejudices the newspaper seems to nurture. When the CPI(M) politburo member Anil Biswas died, there was a two-column front-page report in the 27 March 2006 edition. A detailed obit followed in the national page inside. Perceptions may differ, but the national significance of Kanshi Ram was certainly greater than that of Biswas. But The Hindu chose not to carry even a proper file picture of Kanshi Ram; the `newspaper of record` merely recorded Kashi Ram`s death. Secondly, filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee`s death was reported with more care, and an obit was featured in the op-ed page (29 August 2006). One could offer more examples, but these should suffice for now.

There are many reasons why Kanshi Ram should not have been ignored the way The Hindu chose to ignore him. Having launched the Bahujan Samaj Party in 1984, he ensured that within 10 years it gained the status as a national party in the Election Commission`s nomenclature. Though dubbed by the media as a dalit leader, he was the leader of the larger society. The very name he chose for his party—Bahujan Samaj—indicated that it sought to represent the `oppressed majority`, a distinct echo of Jotiba Phule`s legacy. With this philosophy, he succeeded in placing the BSP as the third biggest national force next to the Congress and the BJP. This bespoke of his organaisational abilities and this was something even the Left parties did not achieve. Such a man certainly deserved more space than what The Hindu deemed was apt for him.

D. Ravikumar
MLA, Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi
Tamil Nadu
October 10, 2006

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