In India, a journalist and a member of the country’s low caste community runs a news website where the reporting is focused on groups that have been marginalized for centuries. Meena Kotwal hopes that turning the spotlight on issues affecting the 300 million strong Dalit community will help redress the discrimination they often suffer.
Meena Kotwal is on her way to interview a former teacher at Delhi University who is protesting her termination from a temporary post, blaming it on caste discrimination.
It is one of many stories concerning the low caste Dalit community that her news website, The Mooknayak, has covered in over two years.
Kotwal, a Dalit and a journalist, launched her outlet after seeing that injustices suffered by the community often went unreported. She attributes the lack of coverage to the near absence of low caste journalists in leadership positions in mainstream media.
According to Kotwal, stories about Dalits are covered in a few lines or small columns in newspapers. They don’t get coverage in prime time or debates because there are no editors from the community.
For centuries, the Dalits were at the bottom of the Hindu caste system. Caste-based discrimination has been outlawed and some Dalits have risen to high political posts. But prejudice is still pervasive against the nearly 300 million strong community.
Although caste-based discrimination is outlawed and some have risen to high political posts, discrimination is still pervasive according to author and political analyst Neerja Chowdhury.
That is what Mooknayak, which means “the voice of the voiceless,” aims to do. Kotwal’s team highlights instances where marginalized communities suffer injustice.
Kotwal cites the example of a story on how the Dalit-dominated Balia village in Uttar Pradesh had not been given an electricity connection for 75 years. Within three months the government provided power to the village. She says these kind of stories have an impact.
The emergence of such media can help amplify the concerns of the Dalit community according to Chowdhury.
The Mooknayak initially relied on crowdfunding and donated equipment, but is exploring other sources of funding as it grows. Kotwal is optimistic. Her main goal is to establish credibility.
Kotwal points out that if BBC, Al Jazeera or other big news outlets do a story, it is seen as factually correct. That is the kind of trust she aspires to build — that if her news website reports on an incident, it will be regarded as absolutely accurate.
Through its reporting, The Mooknayak’s website hopes to make a mark by raising awareness about the issues of the Dalit community.