Mainstream media is often found to under-represent the interests of people in the margins of society such as the dalits in India who are outcaste. In this context, the lack of channels and inability to communicate their own concerns and bring to the fore their experiences of discrimination, has led to ignorance, unaddressed issues of inequality, inaccessibility to basic services, neglect, denial of rights and exclusion from the processes of decision-making and policy-making. The emerging consciousness about importance of Information and Communications Technology in the exploration of alternative media to create communication spaces can lead to the creation of pathways to digital frontiers that provide solutions towards affirmation of communication rights and implementation of inclusion concepts.
The National Consultation and Training in Citizen Journalism – Pathways to Digital Frontiers: Communication Rights and Inclusion Program (Panjim, March 11 – 12, 2016) organized 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), had brought together various persons from multiple levels of responsibility and areas of leadership with specific objectives to share concerns over the dalit issues and to devise practical and active solutions using information and communication technology. The participants were also trained and equipped with the concepts and skills of Citizen Journalism. The action point at the conclusion of the program, issuing from the discussions and deliberations of participants, was to develop an android application to serve as a “Digital Reporting Tool for caste-based discrimination against dalits in India” which is expected to have a long-term and major impact by way of empowering this marginalized community. The program highlights dalit concerns and is expected to lead towards empowerment of dalit communities using communication spaces and pathways rendered by the development of digital applications. For voices to be effectively heard and heeded, access and ownership of both media and message must be enabled. The concept of Citizen Journalism, takes seriously the responsibility and privilege of enabling information sharing in a way that opens up possibilities through self-advocacy for wider public engagement.
In a follow-up of the National Consultation and Training in Citizen Journalism, a group of specialists who are grassroots community enablers working with many disadvantaged and oppressed people including dalits in Mahararashtra, met in a day’s orientation workshop in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra on October 31, 2016. At this program the Digital Reporting Tool (DRT) android application and website dalitvoice.in were launched and deployed. Rt. Rev. Dr. Pradip Kamble, Bishop of Nasik Diocese, Church of North India, launched the website www.dalitvoice.in and the app dalitvoice now available on Google Play, with his blessing and wished the program to meet its objectives successfully for the benefit of the many dalits who are victims of oppression and various kinds of injustices. He lauded the efforts of NCCI Communications while speaking about the need to use emerging media technologies for justice and equality. He was especially concerned that dalit christians are denied their rights on the basis of their religious faith which amounts to discrimination, and should be addressed urgently.
Rev. Caesar David, Executive Secretary, Commission on Communications, NCCI, gave an overview of the concept of the program, and oriented the group in the use of the app and website. Ms. Preety Kamble, social worker and founder member of “helping hands” project, also encouraged the group to take and share the advantage of the excellent tool provided for advocacy and empowerment. The group of Community-enablers were given android devices and will operate from their respective places in Maharashtra such as Pune, Nasik, Mumbai and Ahmednagar, for a month also as the promotional team for the app and the website to be used more widely.
Android app: “dalitvoice” available on Google Play.
This is for people to report incidents of caste-based discrimination that people have faced themselves. The Android app and the website are designed to be in sync with each other so that input of data by person wishing to describe an incident or experience can do so in either of the platforms. It is hoped that more people use the website and the app in claiming the communication space it offers.
Caesar J. David
Commission on Communications, National Council of Churches in India.