Caste is not dead: Survey reveals isolation of Bahujan journalists

REUTERS/Amit Dave

A woman with her son walks past newspapers hanging at a stall with the headlines about Supreme Court's verdict on a disputed religious site in Ayodhya, in Ahmedabad, India, November 10, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave

White people may be over-represented in newsrooms in the United Kingdom and United States, but their numbers pale in comparison to the dominance of Brahmins in Indian newsrooms. 

The population of Brahmins – the topmost caste group in India’s hierarchical caste system – accounts for less than 4% of the total population, but their representation in English and Indian language media when combined with other higher castes is reported as high as 88% of all journalists and editors.

Why do newsrooms in India, especially English news media, remain dominated by Brahmins and other upper castes?

Oxfam India, in partnership with media watchdog Newslaundry, released a report in 2019 titled ‘Who Tells Our Stories Matters: Representation of Marginalised Caste Groups in Indian Newsrooms containing the results of a sample survey looking at English and Hindi news industries. The findings were damning. 

Their key findings:

  1. Of the 121 newsroom leadership positions—editor-in-chief, managing editor, executive editor, bureau chief, input/output editor—across the newspapers, TV news channels, news websites, and magazines under study, 106 were occupied by upper castes. 
  2. Three out of every four TV debate anchors – from a total of 40 anchors in Hindi channels and 47 in English channels –  were upper caste. Not one was Dalit, Adivasi, or Other Backward Classes (a term used in India [OBC] to refer to a person belonging to the administrative category drawn primarily from group [b] mentioned above).
  3. Only 5% of all articles in English newspapers were written by Dalits or Adivasis. Hindi newspapers fare slightly better at around 10%.
  4. Around 72% of bylined articles on news websites were written by people from the upper castes.

To better understand the experiences of Bahujan journalists in Indian newsrooms, I surveyed 16 of them about their experiences at work. I found anecdotes of isolation, exclusion from discussions of the news agenda, assumptions about what stories they could or should be assigned. 

Survey chart by Tejas Harad
Caste self-identification of reporters surveyed in a paper by Tejas Harad

Below are the detailed results of this survey and my recommendations for overhauling Indian newsrooms to better serve the entire nation.