Saroj Kumar is a journalist, currently working with India Today Magazine (Hindi). In this interview he has talked about his educational and professional journey. You can follow him on twitter at @Krsaroj

इस इंटरव्यू को हिंदी में पढने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें

Please introduce yourself to our readers, who are mostly young students across India? Please tell us about your family back ground.

Currently, I am associated with India Today Group and working as a Senior Sub Editor for Hindi edition of India Today Magazine. I am first generation journalist. And, honestly I want to admit that I entered in this field by chance. Of course My family background was not suitable for it or No one from my family (Yes, I too) had thought about this occupation. No doubt, It was because I belongs to a Dalit family and there was no one from my family or relative or even familiar person from my community in this field. My father started his career as a Sipaahi (Constable) and Now he is Sub-Inspector in Bihar Police. That time he was the first person in ancestry (even in my mother’s blood relation) to get a job. Otherwise all relatives were labourer or used to work in other’s agricultural field. Now they have moved to big cities to work as a labourer in different factories. My father had a better vision that he was focused on our education. That’s why you are interviewing me and my elder brother is now Software engineer.

Where did you go for your school education? What were your aspirations when you were in school?

Now when I think about where would I be if not for Navodaya Vidyalaya the answer remains uncertain. My family was going through a financial crisis and my parents were struggling to pay for my brother’s college fees.  During that period I got admission to Navodaya Vidyalaya at Barum in Aurangabad, via entrance exam. I studied there from class 6th to class 12th on government expenditure in this residential school. Like most other students, I too dreamt of becoming an IAS or PCS, however, I never prepared for those exams. At the same time, my parents wanted me to become an engineer like my brother and get a job which would fetch a handsome salary.

You did your graduation in Hindi form Banaras Hindu University. Why did you opt for Hindi? Tell us your experience at BHU.

Actually, from my childhood only, I was very much into reading literature and magazine. My eldest brother used to bring books and magazines which I used to read discretely. When I joined the school this hobby of mine got a boost as the school had a pretty good library. There, I read stories and Novels written by Premchand, Sharadchand, Vridavan Lal Verma, Aacharya Chatur Sen, Nirmal Verma, Dharmveer Bharti etc. Ironically, my parents wanted me to become an engineer whereas I wasn’t interested in mathematics at all. After my schooling, my brother sent me to Ranchi for a few months and Patna after that, to prepare for engineering entrance exam. However, the presence of famous publication like Rajkamal publications, Vani publications, the various book fairs that were conducted there and most of all the Hans Magazine had, to be honest, ‘ruined’ me(and my prospects of becoming an engineer). So in 2008, I suddenly, without informing my parents, filled the form of BHU for graduation in Hindi Literature and was admitted there. My brother is still angry at me for this act.

BHU is much better than any other university, in term of education standards, in UP or Bihar. However, it was in BHU that I realized the ugly truth of this society. It has a lot to offer from academic perspective like big library and other facilities. However, in BHU, I could see the kind of nexus that acadmics has with religion and caste.

What do you think of the developments in BHU in recent years?

For the past few years BHU is going through a transitional phase. On one side girls have become more aware of their rights and on the other side feudalists and followers of Brahmanism have counter attacked with the same fervor.  There is nothing new about castism and nepotism in BHU however, these days it has become violently aggressive specially in the past two years.

What motivated you to join IIMC and pursue career in Mass Com? Please describe your experiences at IIMC? Apart from studies, in which other activities were you passionately involved?

Actually apart from literature, I was also interested in movies and while staying in Banaras I used to watch 2 to 3 movies every week. I had already developed a keen interest in news-letters and magazines. That is why I was attracted towards mass communication. However, I still hadn’t decided to go for mass communication. While I was in the last year of my graduation in Hindi Literature, my brother advised me to go for a professional course like mass communication as it was difficult to get a job with just my graduation degree. I had read in the newspapers that IIMC was the best institute for mass-com in India, so I applied for its entrance test as well. I appeared for BHU mass comm. Entrance test and the very next day I had given the IIMC entrance test so on that very evening I left for Patna and studied whatever I could during my journey. However, the fun thing is that later I found out that I had topped the IIMC entrance test.

Novodaya had given me an opportunity to study whereas IIMC gave me a perspective and wisdom. I understood national politics, society and its relationships and developed a foresight here only. IIMC was not only much better in terms of course and social interaction but the vision it gave me also deserves a special mention.

Did you have to face any negative discrimination for being a lower caste at BHU or IIMC or while trying to get a job?

Discrimination against Dalits on the lines of caste and against muslims on the lines of religion is very common in BHU. Some of my dalit and muslim classmates too had to face this kind of discrimination. Another point that I would like to make is that while I was studying in Navvodaya and used to live, eat and study with classmates belonging to different castes and religion, I didn’t see any such discrimination nor did students show any inclination towards such discrimination. However, on the other hand, during graduation I had to hear and see all this. Obviously, caste based discrimination is not congenital but is developed by the proponents of Brahmanism, especially parents.

Since, the financial condition of my family had improved then as my brother had become an engineer so I didn’t have to face financial problems like my other dalit friends. In fact, I used to get more pocket money than I needed. May be this was the reason why many initially did not find out that I too was a Dalit and I became friends with students belonging to other castes as well. That is why, personally, I didn’t have to face such discrimination. However, there were some miscreant students belonging to upper caste who had a bone to pick with me as I always stood up against their hooliganism.

IIMC was like a new world for me as, along with caste differences class difference was also conspicuously prevalent there. However, class did not make much difference in Hindi journalism. I didn’t have to face any kind of caste based discrimination at IIMC during those days, the faculty was good and wise. I would like to tell you one more thing, I have been a taciturn since my childhood. However, seeing the kind of discrimination that students of lower and oppressed class had to face and the kind of aggression that students of upper class showed against such people, I realized that it was imperative for me to speak up and started speaking actively for the rights of the oppressed.

As far as getting a job is concerned, I was the first student to be recruited via campus selection in my batch, i.e. I was the first choice of Hindustan Newspaper in their recruitment process. It was inly through campus selection that I got the job. If there weren’t any campus selection its nearly impossible for a dalit student to get placed in media houses I have understood this now.

Experiences of your internships? Any remarkable experience that shaped your career?

Actually I didn’t go for internship as I directly got placed in Hindustan group via campus placement and I would like to give credit of my first job to campus placement only. Recently, I have realizes that the representation of dalits in media is close to zero. While I was in Patna working as a trainee sub-editor in Hindustan, I was informed, by a very senior and experienced reporter, Mr. Srikant that I was perhaps the first or second dalit reporter of Patna or Bihar edition of Hindustan newspaper. This experience made me realize why journalists like me are needed. This is the reason why I am always eager to give voice to the oppressed.

I would like to give credit for my job in India Today Group to the then executive-editor of India Today, Mr. Dilip Chandra Mandal, because he was the one to offer me a post in its Hindi Edition. Accordingly, I had applied for the job and the editor Ms. Kaveri Bamjei had taken my interview and selected me. Actually, there is one more problem that you face in this field is that there are no means of knowing about job vacancies unless there is someone to tell you or you have connections. Furthermore, its worse for dalits as they are not even called for interview even if they had applied for the job.

You started your career at Hindustan Media Ventures Ltd. Please describe to us your role there. How did you manage to secure a job there?

I was appointed as a trainee sub-editor in Hindustan newspaper. However, I was given the responsibility of reporting and I was in the city reporting team. I used to report mainly on the problems of people living in the city. I have already told you that I got this job via campus placement

How much grades matter in securing a job in mainstream media? Tell us about other activities which play a major role in securing a job.

Your marks do not matter when it comes to getting a job in main stream media. It would suffice if you just pass the exams. I have already told you before that your connections and your networking play a very important role in securing you a job in main stream media. Since most of the main stream media is dominated by upper caste people  any connection that develops what so ever, develops among them only, two things are important if you want to get a job this way, first, that you belong to upper caste and second, that you are well connected with those people. This is precisely the reason why the representation of dalits and backwards is very less in this field. If you are a student, then it is very much plausible that you would get a job on your merit via campus placement. However, it is important that you are able to convince the recruiter that he/she would be comfortable working with you. Thus, in order to get a job, it is imperative that you talk about things that they like. Otherwise, after that the only window of job opportunity would be your network. Nowadays it has become even more difficult as many media houses have opened their own mass-communication schools and are offering initial jobs to students of those schools only. For the same reason, they have reduced the campus selection from other mass-communication schools. However, job opportunities have considerably increased due to evolution of web journalism.

Did you find that the IIMC had prepared you sufficiently for the many tasks you were required to execute during your internships and later at your Job?

Yes, definitely. IIMC prepared me sufficiently in terms of technicalities and practicality of mass communication and this knowledge helped me a lot during my job. However, the problem is that whatever you have learnt in theory or in media ethics, in the main stream media, in practice, everything is done opposite to it. So, initially it gets a bit difficult to built a consensus between the things you have learnt in theory and the things you do in main stream media. Actually, the contemporary media has no moral compass left. However, in terms of technical training, IIMC has fulfilled its role.

You are working at India Today since 2013. Tell us your experiences there. How would you describe your present job?

India Today Hindi is country’s number one news magazine. It being a magazine you won’t find the kind of pressure that you see in newspapers, channels and websites, also, nobody imposes their idea upon you. Your freedom to cover a particular story depends upon you presenting an idea and its subsequent approval. Considering this, it’s a much better place to work in, furthermore, the working hours are flexible. I basically deal with editing and also do reporting on issues related to education, dalits and backward and oppressed classes. I am especially excited about reporting recent trends and shifts based on new reports and data. I have been also given the duty to manage the website and facebook page of India Today Hindi and report weekly on recent trends on facebook and twitter. In totality, the experience with regards to journalism in India Today has been pretty good so far.

What are the pros and cons of making career in print journalism in today’s digital world?

In today’s digital world the career opportunities are mainly in news websites. Printing of many of the newspapers and magazines or some of their editions have been stopped and have been replaced by their websites. This is because investment in web is lesser. All you need is a group of few people who have to sit on a desk, gather news from the agency and publish it. Apart from that, the growing number of readers on internet has diverted the focus of media houses to their websites. That is why many people are losing their jobs in print media whereas there has been a considerable increase in job opportunities in digital journalism. However, despite the drawbacks, the best thing about print journalism is that it gives you an opportunity of reporting. So, if you are interested in reporting then it is advisable to go for print journalism as the scope of reporting in web journalism is close to zero.

Your take on discrimination in salary of Hindi and English journalists?

There is a lot of difference between the salaries of Hindi journalists and English journalists. As a matter of fact during my campus selection while a hindi trainee sub-editor was offered 14000-16000 salary, an english trainee sub-editor was initially offered Rs. 25000. Though both of them were on the same post and were required to do the same kind of work and this gap widens further as you go up the hierarchical ladder upto the editors. According to me, this affects not only the lives of the journalist but also the quality of their department and as such this kind of wage discrimination must be done away with.

How difficult is it to shift from Hindi Journalism to English; especially when one has gone to Hindi medium school, hails form a village and not excellent in English? Have you ever think of switching the language?

Switching from Hindi Journalism to English Journalism is not easy but it is definitely not impossible. It doesn’t matter if you are from a village or you have attended a Hindi medium school or an English medium school, the only condition that must be met is that you should know how to speak, read and write in English. However, if you are not good in English, it is not only difficult to switch to English journalism but also it would be pretty difficult to survive in Hindi journalism as well. Actually, knowledge of English is very important in Hindi Journalism because in many media houses translation work is also done, especially in web-journalism. I have never thought of switching from Hindi journalism to English journalism because I still face the nervousness that a person who has studied in a hindi medium school, that too in a village, faces. However, the kind of quality work that is seen in English journalism, makes me feel like switching.

What is your view on media becoming irresponsible and showing fact less episodes?

Actually there is a craze of Social Media these days. However, this is an unregulated platform and as such it is quite easy for false news or false evidences to get viral. In this situation newspapers and news channels are under pressure to keep pace with social media and as such they make the mistake of publishing the news without checking its facts for their credibility. Also a question mark has been put upon the credibility of the source of such information. As a matter of fact, contemporary media neither concern itself with the source of news nor with its veracity. You often see that while publishing a news or running a video, channels also run a disclaimer ‘However, we cannot confirm the news or video that is being run’. If the credibility of the news cannot be assured, then why is it being shown? This clearly shows a non-professional attitude of the media.

Is there any role of ethics in today’s journalism or has it become totally market oriented?

NO, today’s main stream journalism has no place for ethics. It has become totally market oriented. Apart from this,it has lost its objectivity under the pressure of the powerful. Leaving a few exceptions, journalism nowadays has become an organ of market and politics. There is no place especially for the opressed caste in journalism.

What would be your parting message to students who want to be at your place?

If you are not enthusiastic about journalism then please do not enter this field because it is not like any other career, if you only want to develop your career then you can choose any other field. If you are sure that you cannot pursue anything else but this, then only you should come for this.  One more thing, if you are joining journalism thinking that you are going to serve your nation and society then you are terribly mistaken. Honestly, if you are good at networking then only you would be able to succeed otherwise you are going to face a lot of difficulty. In totality, this field is not like as it seems from the outside. Often it turns out to be a mirage. But still, if you are passionate, then you are welcomed.

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