The Persistence of Untouchability: Working Conditions of Dalit Journalists in India

Kailash Koushik, Madhuri Gupta


This article can be viewed as an extension of the Oxfam report of 2019, which revealed that Indian news media is dominated by upper castes and the near absence of Dalit and Adivasi journalists. Using critical political economy as a framework, and undertaking qualitative interviews of self-identifying Dalit journalists, their conditions of work in mainstream news media are examined. In addition to the problems faced by journalists in general, this research reveals that Dalit journalists experience considerable psychological stress and extra intensity of work. They tolerate a toxic work environment that results in mental trauma and have to navigate rigid caste networks. Supplementing in-depth interviews with secondary data, the article argues that the conditions within which Dalit journalists function contain all dimensions of untouchability: exclusion, humiliation, and exploitation. The article concludes with a call to end this untouchability, revive the Working Journalists Act to ameliorate the conditions of work of India’s fourth estate. Specific legislation is required to ensure favorable conditions of work for Dalit journalists. Further, the article calls for a theoretical revamping of critical political economy to include caste, particularly when analyzing South Asian media.

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