The traditional Brahminical system in India stated that those born into families not recognized within the major caste categories would be ‘untouchable’ and could never come into contact with people of higher caste, lest the high caste people be physically and spiritually defiled. Those who are beneath the entire caste system, and are literally ‘outcaste’, call themselves ‘Dalits’. The word “Dalit”, meaning “broken” or “ground down”, is used by ‘outcaste’ people to describe at the same time their oppression, their identity and their collective power for emancipation. Caste discrimination is sometimes observable in explicit forms and at other times in subtle ways. Either way, it has remained in place despite its legal abolition because of its religious sanction, the social and economic persecution of those who broke caste ‘rules’ defining the work done, and the segregation between castes. The UN defines this kind of problem as ‘discrimination on the basis of work and descent’. It is an ancient form of oppressive, hierarchical social organization that ordered people according to their family of birth.
Mainstream media, majorly owned by, and representing the interests of the dominant classes and high caste people, is often found to under-represent or misrepresent the interests of people in the margins of society such as the dalits. In this context, the lack of direct channels and inability to communicate their own concerns and bring to the fore their experiences of discrimination, has resulted in ignorance, unaddressed issues of inequality, inaccessibility to basic services, neglect, denial of rights and exclusion from the processes of decision-making and policy-making.
This project was conceptualized and initiated by the Commission on Communications and Relations of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI - COCR), Christian Service Agency (CSA) and World Association for Christian Communication (WACC The project included a National Consultation and Training in Citizen Journalism – entitled Pathways to Digital Frontiers: Communication Rights and Inclusion” - which brought together multiple stakeholders to share concerns about issues faced by Dalits and to devise interventions using available Information and Communication Technology (ICTs). Participants included activists, communication leaders, national leaders from National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) constituent member bodies, theologians, grassroots-level workers (including self-help group facilitators), civil society organization leaders, and consultants. The participants received training on citizen journalism training in order to increase their understanding and use of ICTs as advocacy tools.
For voices to be effectively heard and heeded, access and ownership of both media and messages must be enabled. The project facilitated awareness about the importance of ICTs to serve the communication needs of Dalits, who often lack suitable communication channels. Citizen Journalism seeks to enable information sharing in a way that opens up possibilities through advocacy for wider public engagement.
One of the outputs of this project is the development and deployment of a website (dalitvoice.in) and a mobile application (dalitvoice; now available on Google play), to enable the reporting of caste-based discrimination. The website and app synchronize with each other so that reports can be posted on either of the platforms. This Digital Reporting Tool empowers dalits by forging a way to exercise their communication rights by telling their own stories and highlighting their issues and interests. This has opened up possibilities for public awareness and support, social inclusion, and participation in the development of their own agenda related to policy and governance .
The app has been actively promoted in areas of Maharashtra State such as Pune, Nasik and Ahmednagar, where dalits belonging to communities like Mahar, Maang, Bhangi, Chambhar, etc., live. Feedback from Dalits in these areas has been very positive. Some have said that not only is this helpful so that they can “voice their concerns directly”, but also because they are more aware about what is happening in other areas, which helps them to builds up solidarity and strength.
For more information on this project, please contact Lorenzo Vargas at LV@waccglobal.org.