By Nikhil M Ghanekar
DIKSHA BHOOMI in Nagpur, the historic grounds where 5 lakh people converted to Buddhism with Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar in 1956, witnessed another unique event on 26 November 2010. Close to one lakh people oversaw the birth of a 24×7 television channel they could call their own: Lord Buddha TV.
In the clutter of electronic media, Lord Buddha TV claims to be a channel with a ‘religious and social bent’. Conceived in 2007 by a group of eight Ambedkarites, the channel is headquartered in Nagpur with a staff of 60 and is broadcast via established cable networks UCN and BCN in Nagpur, Vidarbha and Amravati in Maharashtra. The channel has just acquired a permit to telecast shows via satellite at a cost of Rs. 8.5 lakh per month and has ambitions to start primary operations in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and New Delhi by the second week of February.
The channel, with a current viewership of around 2.5 crore, is promoted by entrepreneurs entrenched in the Dalit movement. Local advertising is brought in by promoter Sachin Moon, who has been running Nagpur Varta news channel and an ad agency since 1995.
Pritam Bulkunde, 33, director and content manager of the channel, says, “The mainstream media since the time of Doordarshan does not say much about the majority lower castes in the country. This channel is not only a tool to propagate Buddhism but also a platform for all things progressive and anti-caste. It will be a reflection and transformation of the Ambedkarite movement.”
Accordingly, the programming is a mix of religion (morning shows) and infotainment — a quiz on the Constitution, slots creating awareness about special schemes for Scheduled Castes/Tribes and the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. Maitri Sanvad has interviews of Dalit intellectuals, writers, artists and legal luminaries.
Bhaiyyaji Khairkar, 55, promoter and spokesperson, told TEHELKA, “There is a definite difference between our channel and other religious channels like Aastha and Sanskara. These rely heavily on mythology and talk little about the present. We stress on showing people how to cope with changing times.”
On being asked whether the channel will cater to only the Dalit community, he says, “Every society has a section of people who accept change and are liberal. We want to involve them too in debate and discussion. The core team is connected to a huge network of luminaries from the world of literature, journalists, poets and artists. We will definitely engage them in improving the content of the channel.”
So far, the response has been encouraging. Content head Aman Kamble points out, “Cable operators are flooded with calls to telecast the channel in pockets of Nagpur.” Arjun Dangle, author of Poisoned Bread and No Entry for the New Sun, says, “The issues and questions of the Bahujan must come into the mainstream. Youth needs guidance on questions of education and career, of land acquisition and SEZs. The channel should have a comprehensive outlook. It is important to have a focused target audience and impress them early on — otherwise they will get bored.”
Lord Buddha TV is not affiliated to a political party nor does it associate openly with any faction of the Ambedkarite movement, its promoters say. The success of the channel hinges largely, as Dangle says, on “its ability to connect with the youth, focus on its target audience and avoidance of political posturing”.