Aug 9, 2010
That media is the watchdog of democracy is well known. A look at the evolution of the media the world over and in our own country proves beyond doubt that many burning, political, social, religious, educational and national issues call for concentration of journalism so as to shape the destiny of a society and bring about social change. Our country has been fortunate to have quite a few fearless, forthright, intrepid and committed journalists who performed this role with utmost fervor and with a sense of purpose to make that vital difference to our democratic set up.
Kannada Journalism is replete with examples of journalists who have left a mark in their profession and in public mind due to their exemplary contribution in the field by their powerful writings, forthright views, courage and conviction even in the face of adversity. Late Vaddarse Raghurama Shetty, who ruled Kannada journalism for nearly four decades from the 1960’s, belongs to that rare breed of distinguished and enlightened journalists who made a difference to their profession by their fearless writings on a variety of subjects that had a bearing on the society. Raghurama Shetty was the voice of the voiceless who espoused the cause of the oppressed and the weaker sections of the society and occupies a place of pride in Kannada Journalism.
August 9, 2010 marks the 9th death anniversary of this fearless warrior who fought the mighty and powerful with his pen, often putting his own life at risk in his pursuit to promote transparent and accountable governance and to bring about social change by championing the cause of the backward and weaker sections of the society. He has left behind a vacuum that cannot be fulfilled as he had been a paradigm who exemplified the maxim “pen is mightier than the sword” in his own inimitable style, with tangible results.
For him journalism was not just a profession but a passion and a way of life.
He was a born fighter who never bowed his head to powers that be or succumbed to any temptations. One of his younger sisters Leela Nayak recalls that he was a straight forward person who did not hesitate to point out the wrongs however great the person was. . “He never compromised on his ideals come what may and could never be cowed down by politicians. He commanded respect from all”, she asserts.
“Varase” or “Vaddarse” as he was popularly known by the acronym of the byline he used, for his admirers, worked in both Kannada and English Journalism with equal ease demonstrating a commendable mastery over both the languages and he achieved it with a formal education of only 8th standard. As a journalist he was known for his indefatigable concern for the welfare of the oppressed, his command over the language and his relentless crusade against issues detrimental to the society. His writings were like a potent weapon which compelled readers to ponder and act. It is said that his powerful writings were instrumental in bringing down the ruling state government in 1982.
Vaddarse Raghurama Shetty was born in Vaddarse village of Kundapura in 1928 in a rich agricultural family, in the same house immortalized by the famous T V Serial “Guddada Bhootha” televised a few years ago. He was the fourth among the 10 children born to Krishnappa Shetty and Venkamma. Raghurama Shetty completed his primary education in Kota in Kundapur.
The sudden death of his father at a young age when he was studying in 9th standard at Milagres High School in Kallianpur, forced him to discontinue his studies and he headed to Mumbai at tender age of 15. He failed to get a suitable job there and came back to Vaddarse. He worked as a teacher for sometime but ultimately it was Mumbai that beckoned this young man in the late 1940’s. Having begun his stint in Mumbai as a waiter in Dalal Street he drew inspiration from some journalists of Free Press Journal whom he came across while supplying tea and pursued his studies in a non-formal way. He became a voracious reader and satiated his thirst for acquiring knowledge on a wide range of topics. In Mumbai he came in contact with Ram Manohar Lohia and was greatly influenced by his teachings. His contact with Lohia played a significant role in molding his thought process and personality and this was very much reflected in his writings.
With the exposure he acquired in Mumbai he returned to Mangalore a much knowledgeable young man and chose journalism to give vent to the sea of thoughts raging within on the prevailing social inequality, injustice, caste prejudice and rampant corruption. He began his journalism career in 1956 in “Navabharat”, a Kannada daily published from Mangalore when he was appointed as its Bangalore Staff Correspondent. In 1959 he joined Prajavani Kannada Daily and worked for nearly 7 years before he was transferred to its sister concern Deccan Herald, English daily. Much to the vexation of his detractors Raghurama Shetty showed his prodigious talent by mastering English language even though he had not completed his High school. He was promoted as Prajavani Chief Reporter in 1979 and worked in that capacity till he resigned in 1983 owing to some differences with the management and made earnest preparations to start his own newspaper “Mungaru”, ( monsoon), from Mangalore.
Dr Puttaswamy, who is the PRO of Bangalore Development Authority, Bangalore, worked with Raghurama Shetty having begun his journalistic career in Prajavani recalls “ Varashe was a campaign journalist who proved to be the voice of the voiceless and the oppressed. He had strong views on many burning social issues and he guided the young brigade of journalists on the need to highlight such issues.”
During his stint in Prajavani and Deccan Herald Raghurama Shetty strived hard to make Kannada as the only first language in the curriculum of Secondary education in Karnataka. He was a staunch supporter of Raitha Chaluvali and always championed the cause of the farmers for getting reasonable price for their products. He also extended full support for the Gokak agitation that swept across the country. He was the first to recognize the social transformation initiated in Karnataka by late Devraj Urs. He made a thorough study of the problems of farmers and was an authority on power and irrigation situation in the state. With his deep knowledge he had predicted almost two decades back that Karnataka would face severe power shortage, a prophesy which has come true now. Armed with an in depth knowledge his ‘Sadana Sameekshe” (assembly reviews) that mirrored the true picture of the state of affairs and the hollowness of politicians were looked upon with awe by politicians and in admiration by the public.
Apart from fighting for issues relating to public interest he had to wage a lone battle against Indian media which was clandestinely supporting the repressive regime under the pretext of being independent. He set new benchmark in Kannada Journalism. In discharging his duties he faced threats to his life which failed to silence his writings.
It was desire to provide “voice for the voiceless” that prompted Raghurama Shetty to start a Kannada Daily paper from Mangalore which was a novel experiment in Kannada journalism and can be termed as a landmark in Kannada journalism. He wanted the common readers to be the owners of the newspaper where they could buy shares by contributing just Rs. 1,000/-. “Chithaneya hole harisi janashakti belethegeva Mungaru” banners appeared in every nook and corner of Dakshina Kannada, creating a kind of excitement among the people. The newspaper was launched on September 9, 1984 with Raghurama Shetty as the Editor of “Mungaru” and as the Managing Director of Mungaru Prakashna Limited.
In his endeavor of balancing the ideals he stood for, the reality and the commercial aspects involved in bringing out Mungaru, Raghurama Shetty struggled hard and fought a loosing battle and finally had to give up the fight by resigning from the newspaper he built so diligently. He fought inimical forces within the organization and outside, without his having the slightest inclination. His lack of acumen as an administrator also proved to be his undoing. “Mungaru” advocated the cause of the downtrodden, the deprived and the weaker sections of the society. A year after his departure, the paper was also closed. It was a great setback for Raghurama Shetty as he could not recover from the harshest truth.
Having resigned from 'Mungaru' Raghurama Shetty concentrated on writing books and articles for other newspapers. He brought out two books tiled “Bahurupe Arasu” on the life of Devaraj Uras and wrote biography of former Railway Minister titled “Glimpses of a visionary”. Later on he lacked concentration and motivation to write especially after the untimely death of his wife Prafulla Shetty who had passed away in 1996, as she was his pillar of strength who stood by him through the thick of times. His three sons also could not stay with him as they were just getting settled in their respective careers.
The then Karnataka government appointed Raghurama Shetty as the Chairman of Devaraj Urs Research organization where he served for a year in 1997. In 2000 the Karnataka government honoured him with the prestigious TSR award, the highest award given in the field of journalism by the state, in recognition of his valuable contributions as a journalist.
He spent the last few years of his life at his home in Yadadi, near Kundapur, lonely and depressed. The pain of Mungaru’s failure had greatly perturbed him engulfing him entirely and finally consumed him for ever. Having put in his heart, soul, energy, reputation and hard earned money in his efforts to bring out a ‘people owned’ newspaper, Raghurama Shetty found it difficult to overcome the bitter experience of its failure and that bothered him till he breathed his last.
With his death the voice that roared and thundered giving voice to the cause of the weaker and the deprived, through his hard hitting write ups, has been silenced forever.