New Delhi- Mooknayak, which means leader of the voiceless, was the first Marathi fortnightly-newspaper founded by B. R. Ambedkar in 1920 to voice concerns of the marginalised. It laid foundation of a struggle that shaped the subaltern politics. Though the publication could not survive for a long time, yet it established Dr Ambedkar as a journalist apart from an Indian jurist, economist, social reformer and political leader who headed the committee drafting the Constitution of India.
The fortnightly published on alternate Sundays. Chatrapathi Shahuji Maharaj contributed Rs 2,500 as the seed money for the newspaper. Its copy used to be sold for 2.5 ana. Its annual subscription fee was Rs 2.50. By July 1922, the circulation rose to 1,000 copies.
Talking about the glorious past of the newspaper, Prabodhan Pol, a professor at Manipal Centre for Humanities, MAHE, Manipal in Karnataka, "Dr Ambedkar was never officially associated with the operations of Mooknayak.
“But he was the de-facto editor for sometime before leaving for his doctoral studies at the London School of Economics. The first official editor of Mooknayak was Pandhurang Nandram Bhatkar, a graduate from Fergusson College in Pune. He came into limelight due to his marriage with a Brahmin woman in Bombay. He was later replaced by Dhyandev Gholap, who was working with Mooknayak as a manager and accountant,” he told The Mooknayak.
Pandhurang grabbed headlines because of his marriage with a Brahmin woman, he said, Gholap emerged as the first member from the untouchable community to get nominated to the Bombay Legislative Council. In the subsequent years, he got in bad books of Dr Ambedkar due to alleged mismanagement of the newspaper. He finally resigned.
The paper continued to face financial problems apart from stigma and revulsion that comes with any enterprise or initiative started by a member of a Dalit community. Naval Bhathena, a Parsi friend of Dr Ambedkar, bailed out Mooknayak on several occasions.
Pol said the newspaper helped in the institutionalisation of print culture among Dalits in western India. Bombay, being an industrial hub of untouchable migrant population, became the nidus of Dalit activism.
It has been 104 years since the establishment of Mooknayak, but the journalism raising the issues of the Dalits has evolved in the true sense only in the last few years. Thanks to the advent of digital media, which facilitated the existence of The Mooknayak and several such other portals that are trying to give voice to the voiceless.
Before the Internet access was not so common, the voice of the oppressed were only raised through the print media, which were largely mouthpieces of political parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Sustaining such platforms are still not easy. Such media continue to face financial challenges. They are yet to match the financial prowess of the ‘mainstream media’.
Despite the challenges, The Mooknayak and other media platforms dedicated to the marginalised continue to work for the marginalised sections of the society and promise to take the mantle of Mooknayak ahead.