In this talk, Dr. Prabodhan Pol speaks about the significance of newspapers to the Ambedkarite Movement, and how Ambedkar’s newspapers have played an important role in India’s anti-caste struggle from 1920-1956.

Implications of Newspapers, Journalism, and Colonialism

• We often take the presence and circulation of newspapers for granted. We also tend to overlook the importance of newspapers today
• Newspapers have played a crucial role in shaping anti-caste discourses
• The trajectory of newspapers in India takes us back to the 19th century.
•Newspapers began to play an active social and political role as they shaped the voices of mass movements, and thereby created a unique and dynamic public sphere
• We also need to understand the setting in which the newspapers were operating– colonial period

Ambedkar and his Newspapers
• The newspapers that we refer to today are different in terms of their age and time
• However, Ambedkar’s newspapers were not simply platforms that reported occurrences in the vicinity. They were voices that negotiated with the social-political and religious life in the colonial period
• The ramification of these voices was reflected in the political activism and discourses of different organizations that led to the crystallization of ideas
• Since 1920, Ambedkar had been emphasizing that in order to establish a firm alternative voice, there is a need to have an independent voice that is not associated with established mainstream voices

• ‘Mooknayak’ was the first such experiment that Ambedkar conducted. Although it wasn’t extremely successful, it was the beginning of a new era of anti-caste politics
• Mooknayak was established in 1920 by Ambedkar. Ambedkar deliberately chose not to be the official editor of this paper as he was then employed as a part of government service.
However, he single-handedly wrote for Mooknayak for the first few months
• Mooknayak published issues related to caste, religion, nationalism
• It was published before the establishment of organized Dalit politics
• Mass mobilization within Dalit politics started in 1927 with Madad satyagraha, whereas

Mooknayak was established in 1920
• Despite this, Mooknayak played a crucial rule in changing the anti-caste politics
• It helped establish new politics of assertion that challenged social issues
• It was a newspaper that transcended boundaries of caste and religion
• In this newspaper, Ambedkar famously compared Indian society with a ‘dysfunctional multistorey tower’ where each tower represented a suffocated caste-ridden society and each storey in the tower constituted a particular caste
• It was in Mooknayak that Ambedkar for the first time critiques Indian nationalism. He argued that Indian nationalism arrogantly invisibilized the caste question
• Ambedkar was forced to stop the publication Mooknayak in 1923 due to financial crises
Mooknayak taught Ambedkar how to be alert and attentive with his forthcoming newspapers

• ‘Bahishkrut Bharat’ was the second newspaper that Ambedkar established in 1927
This was first published in the midst of the Mahad Satyagraha. In that sense, it was a newspaper of the mass movement
• Unlike in his other newspapers, Ambedkar was the editor of Bahishkrut Bharat
This newspaper had a life of 2 years and had to be shut down in 1929, again due to financial crises
• As compared to Mooknayak, Bahishkrut Bharat was more powerful and had immense mass influence
• This newspaper presented Ambedkar’s perspective of structural violence, political representation and access to public resources
• In the pages of Bahishkrut Bharat, Ambedkar argues that Hindu society was incapable of understanding basic social norms
• It was in this newspaper that he also argues that Dalits should be identified separately from other communities
• In this newspaper, he also appeals Dalits to convert to other religions, such as Islam
This newspaper inaugurated a new era of mass politics in western India

• Janata was founded in 1930 during the first Round table conference
• Janata was the longest-serving newspaper of the Ambedkarite movement. It began in 1930 and went on till 1956 after which it was renamed to ‘Prabuddha Bharat’
• It was first edited by Ambedkar’s confidant Devrao Naik
• In the early 1930s, Ambedkar tried to take up the questions of caste, class, marginality, and democracy
•Ambedkar’s leadership in this time attained a national stature
• It was during this time that new politics was being unveiled. For instance, Ambedkar’s involvement in the peasant movement as well as in the rural question, which is often ignored, is discussed in this newspaper.
• Janata also documents the politics of Independent Labour Party that was established by Ambedkar in 1936
• Janta published information about the strikes and movements organized by Ambedkar and his followers
• The Scheduled Caste Federation, which was founded by Ambedkar in the 1940s is addressed in this newspaper
• This newspaper tried to articulate new ideas and politics, and hence it is extremely important

• While this was not a newly founded newspaper, it was renamed from Janata to Prabudhha Bharat
• Very few have written about Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism. This newspaper documents how this message of conversion was articulated by Ambedkar to the public and how people were convinced by it
• The language used to articulate this argument in this paper was very simple and would help untouchables easily understand the need for conversion
•This paper is important as it helps us understand the reason behind Ambedkar’s position on conversion to Buddhism, as well as his position on religion as well

Why do we need to study Ambedkar’s newspapers?
• When we think about anti-caste politics, we think of Ambedkar. Hence it is important to understand his positions
• Secondly, newspapers help us untangle the complex picture of how Ambedkar leadership operated in that period
• The newspapers play an important role to understand how the movement operationalized on an everyday basis
• They are a source of knowledge that provide information about the marginalized
Many questions that are dismissed from Ambedkar’s writings are well documented in these newspapers
• The newspapers aid in articulation of mass movements that were missed from other writings
• Finally, the newspapers are documentations of Ambedkarite politics that give voices to the Dalits

Talk summarized by Nioshi

Courtesy Velivada