Ahead of the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the Dalit-run YouTube channel The Shudra uploaded a news item on Dalit basket-weavers of Azamgarh. Coming in the midst of the election season, the news defied logic of the mainstream media—chasing stale bytes of leaders and digging for dead numbers from past elections. “We found basket weavers of the Dalit community living in extremely deplorable conditions. They wove the baskets with a lot of effort, and they were generally bartered for little goods. They are not even paid for that,” says Sumit Chauhan, founder of The Shudra. “We kept our focus on issues like this and tried to disseminate them through our online media. These were the kind of stories we needed to highlight.”
Sumit realised the need for his own YouTube channel when he was six years into working in a mainstream TV organisation. During this period, Sumit recalls many instances of discrimination, including being overlooked for promotion and having his story ideas trashed. “I joined the newsroom after completing my journalism course from the Indian Institute of Media and Communication. Coming from there and making a place in a leading TV news channel was a significant achievement. It was exciting for me and also for my family. I am a Chamar by caste, and my grandfather was in the business of repairing shoes. This was a big leap from there,” Sumit tells Outlook. But very soon, his ideal world of journalism started to crumble as he faced the harsh realities of a casteist society and an industry dominated by upper castes.