Bahujan activist and contributing editor, Round Table India, Kuffir, talks to HT on the alternative media scenario in India. Round Table India (RTI) was started in 2009 by bloggers to put together a Dalit Bahujan socio-political online platform in the backdrop of the maturing Bahujan movement. RTI has neither tried to be ‘media’ nor its ‘alternative,’ even as it is a point of reference in discussions and interventions in the world of alternative media.
What were the reasons why Round Table India was started? Has there been a shift in the way it was first conceived to the present, given that there is a proliferation of alternative media spaces, all of whom talk or discuss Dalit issues?
Round Table India was started around the time when the internet had started acquiring a more ‘social’ face, when blogs and networking sites began to make their appearance. The political trigger was the maturing of the Bahujan movement initiated by Manyawar Kanshi Ram saheb. The movement for social transformation that he had started had come to infuse a sense of confidence among the Bahujans and a whole host of groups and individuals had started taking up a lot of causes - all revolving around the theme of Bahujan assertion, mobilisation and politicisation.
One of those efforts was the ‘Insight Youth Voices’ magazine started around 2004-5 by Anoop Kumar and other Dalit students in the JNU campus. It was a youth magazine aimed at Dalit, Adivasi, Bahujan students around universities across India. At the same time, a few Dalit Bahujan bloggers were making their their presence felt. And it was a very small group of these bloggers - Bhanu Pratap Singh, a techie, Dr Anu Ramdas, a scientist, and myself - who came together to visualise a much bigger Dalit Bahujan online platform, which would serve multiple functions, be a mouthpiece for articulation on contemporary discourses, a resource for accessing archived material on atrocities, policies affecting Bahujans and a library of sorts for archiving historic texts by Dalit Bahujan anti-caste leaders - Babasaheb Ambedkar, Phule etc.
RTI was started on January 3, 2009, on the birth anniversary of Savitribai Phule. The organised backlash against Mandal 2 also provided a kind of political urgency to the effort. RTI has been evolving over the years, trying to deepen its reach across regions, issues and perspectives. All with the aim to help in the building of an ‘informed Ambedkar age’.. to build a Bahujan civil society. That also is the key difference between us and all Brahminised sites - whether they call they call themselves ‘mainstream’ or ‘alternative’ media: they wish to ‘cover’ caste issues. we believe we talk of the mainstream - the Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi majority of india... that is why we’re a mainstream media platform.
Unlike other alternative media, Round Table seems to set its publishing agenda not with an eye to mainstream media. Is that correct? Many alternative media also say that they welcome the traffic between mainstream and alternative media -- how do u see this intersection?
A. Please see answer above. We’re not an ‘alternative’ or an ‘intersection’.. we try, with all our resource limitations or our utter lack of resources more precisely, to provide a platform for the mainstream - the Bahujan society of India. All other media pander to elite Brahminised minorities.
What, according to you, is the kind of alternative media that is really needed? Round Table’s focus seems to be not the dissemination of news like some other sites, but to use the site to set off a political renaissance so to speak and create a culture or school of Dalit theorisation.
Right now, given our resource situation too, we don’t aim to focus on mere news dissemination. The Brahminised media now is totally absorbed in converting every bit of news into some kind of macabre entertainment. We try to provide views and analysis which will help the Dalit Bahujans to separate all the tonnes of chaff from this grain.. and these efforts are totally community driven - it’s our huge number of readers and writers who actually perform this task - it is totally their intellect and articulation which impels this renaissance that you speak of.
Now with mainstream media also including features - videos, opinion pieces, blogs, niche writing -- in their web versions, is there a danger of a shrinking of space for alternative media?
What’s most important is perspective, and the social-political position that you speak from. Big media can’t cook up an ‘alternative’ to itself. They’re anchored in big capital and high birth. They can chuck neither.