Journalism College suspends its student over “wild allegations”

IIMC recently suspended one its students for publishing a story on the political climate of the institution.

WrittenBy:Aratrika Halder
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2016 was not the smoothest year for universities in the country, nor has it been particularly kind to journalists. So consider it no surprise that the new year kicked off with strife in a journalism college. On January 7, Rohin Kumar, a Hindi Journalism student at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) published a story on Newslaundry’s Campus Politik section—a platform for students to write about their university’s issues and news. Two days later, he was informed by the university administration that he was suspended.

The suspension letter did not refer to any specific violation but simply stated that he had broken the code of social conduct on the grounds of “making wild allegations against the institute through his writings on online media”. The letter further went on to inform Kumar that he was barred from the campus until such a time as a disciplinary committee would meet with him to discuss the issue.

Kumar, like many students, was fairly prolific on Facebook, posting both snippets about his life as well as his university. And truth be told, as an IIMC student, there was much to post.

In March of last year, senior faculty Amit Sengupta suddenly resigned after the Information and Broadcasting ministry issued his transfer order to an Odisha-based institute supposedly because of his support for Rohith Vemula, FTII and the protesting Jawaharlal Nehru University students.

Calling the transfer a “punishment posting”, the professor sent in his resignation on March 4. On December 21, an academic associate, Narendra Singh Rao’s position was terminated with immediate effect. The institute also debarred him from entering the campus premises, saying it would “vitiate” the peaceful atmosphere. On December 25, Rao posted an open letter addressed to the Director General, KG Suresh on his Facebook. He claimed that he was being punished because he opposed “the rampant attempts being made to saffronise the media education and ethos in the campus (wherein only journalists with Right-wing, Hindutva/RSS leanings are invited for special lectures)”.

Rao challenged the termination of his contract before the Central Administrative Tribunal on January 3. PTI reported that the Delhi High Court refused to interfere with the order of the tribunal which had declined to grant him any immediate relief. The High Court bench stated that Rao could raise the issue before the tribunal during the hearing scheduled for January 30.

Kumar’s article made references to Rao and Sengupta, calling the decision to fire and transfer them “arbitrary”. He also questioned the political leanings of the speakers invited to lecture students. He wasn’t the only one, five other students of the institute, from the Radio and Television department had made several posts on Facebook regarding Rao’s termination under the hashtag #IstandWithNarenSir on December 28.

The next day, the five received a notice which asked them to appear in front of the disciplinary committee. There, they were advised to “strictly adhere to the Code of Conduct” and “maintain peace and congenial academic atmosphere in the campus”. A copy of the letter was also sent to their respective residential addresses.

Kumar’s had responded responded to the suspension letter for specific instances where he had violated the code of conduct and why his punishment was so much more severe than that of his classmates. He also noted that the letter referred to him as “Rohin Verma” and not “Rohin Kumar”, which was the name he is enrolled under. He surmised that as this was the name on his Facebook profile, it was indicative that his suspension was on the basis of his social media activities and none of his other “credentials, credentials including [his] academic performance, classroom activities, behaviour etc.” were taken into account.

The response from the Deputy Registrar, PVK Raja said that as Rao’s case was sub-judice at the time, the situation was now different. He also pointed out that Rao’s case which had moved before the Central Administrative Tribunal made no reference to “atrocities against Dalit contractuals or Saffronisation” and for Kumar to refer to these was an attempt to mislead students and “vitiate the academic atmosphere of the campus”. That Kumar was quoting Rao’s open letter was not mentioned. Nor was name on the suspension letter.

He was further informed that there would be no further communication from the institute until the disciplinary committee met. Not date was given.

”Critique is not badnaami (defamation). I have not written anything that would hamper the institute’s image,” Kumar told Newslaundry. Hemant Joshi, the head of the Hindi journalism department felt that instead of writing about a subjudiced matter, Kumar should have talked to the authorities first. “He is purposely talking to the press about the institute. He came to me only after action was taken against him. Nobody should crib now,” he said. He also noted that unlike the other five, Rao had never taught Kumar and wondered why his termination was a cause for concern for the student.

Kumar had claimed that on the day of his suspension, Suresh had wandered into the classrooms of the Hindi journalism students and asking them to focus on their studies. A classmate of his had recorded the warning and shared it with Newslaundry on condition of anonymity. Suresh can be heard warning the students of external influences that were attempting to sow discord in the university. He claimed these were because of the elections in Uttar Pradesh but does not explain how. Nor does he name anyone.

Suresh told Newslaundry that Kumar had not bothered to crosscheck his facts with the administration before making “wild sweeping allegations” about the institute in his article. Thus the bold step.

“Two courts are adjudicating on this matter and then a student writes and makes all wild allegations at a time when the matter is subjudiced and also writes on Facebook that other students should follow suit. He is provoking the others students, who want to come here and study,” he said.

Both Sengupta and Rao had alleged that the political axis of IIMC was beginning to tilt to the right. Kumar also felt as much. In an interview with The Caravan, Suresh denied these allegations of saffronisation. But as Sagar, The Caravan reporter noted, students that he spoke to echoed Rao and Sengupta’s concerns about the direction the institute was taking. They all pointed to the guest lecturers invited by the institute, individuals with allegiance or ties to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

In is important to note that Suresh also has ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He was a senior fellow with the Vivekananda International Foundation, a public policy research institute affiliated to the RSS.

Ironically, for all the disdain Suresh showed towards Facebook, yesterday he had made a post where he asked if journalists could write against their own channels/papers and if not how could students write against their own university? This was shared 46 times. Of the 93 comments, there were several that pointed out that relationship between an employer and employee was not akin to that of a student and university.

Vijay Parmar, one of the members on the disciplinary committee told Newslaundry that the committee might hear Kumar’s case this week. This had not been communicated to Kumar.

Kumar’s exams are in April. Until the committee meets and a decision is taken, he is not eligible to give them or attend classes. “I can apologise to the committee and go on with my course. But when I’ll be placed in an organisation, this habit of acceptance will be imbibed in me so deep that I might never speak out and I do not want that,” he said.


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