Media, Modernity and Minorities
The Subtleties of Exclusion in the “PublicDiscourse”
Some of India’s most significant early reflections on theminority predicament within a democracy came from B.R.Ambedkar, leader of what were called the “untouchable”castes within Hinduism. Ambedkar faced a situation in whichthe ritually ostracised communities outside the caste-Hindufold, enjoyed the right to vote and were assured of formalequality under the law. Yet for all that, they remainedoppressed in the real world.The “untouchables” as he unflinchingly called them, or theHarijans, as Gandhi in his paternalism named them, havetoday assumed an identity of their own choice: plainlystated, that of the
, or the oppressed.
which translates as something equivalent to the “communityof the many”,
has since come into being as a politicalconstruct, which speaks of the state of oppression being anaffliction of the majority rather than the numericallydisadvantaged.
face oppression despite their strength in numbersand the assurances of equality they have been given,underpinned both by the unrestricted right to vote andaffirmative action. These were the promises they were givenas part of the social compact that brought India itsindependence from colonialism. Yet as Ambedkar sought tochart the future course of democratic India, all this justdid not seem enough to ensure that the basic norms of ademocracy would be met.“One man, one vote” was not a sufficient assurance ofdemocracy. True democracy for Ambedkar meant “one man, onevalue”.
And in the six decades since this prophecy wasoffered, it has been underlined with brutal clarity thatthe formal assurance under the law does not yet meansubstantive equality. The universal franchise andaffirmative action remain imperfect instruments of anegalitarian social order.“One man, one value” would have an intuitive appeal to all,as a definition of democracy in terms of its fundamentalpremises. Yet individuals are known by their antecedents