Are college interviews now a saffron litmus test?

Several students claim their interviewers at IIMC asked them about their caste and political affiliation.

WrittenBy:Sahla Nechiyil
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“How can a Muslim be an OBC?”

“Compare Marxism with Islam”

“What is your stand on Kanhaiya’s sedition case?”

“Speak about Zakir Naik who was “radicalising Muslim youth””

These were some of the questions asked of applicants during an admission interview at the government-run Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) for its post graduate diploma courses 2017-18.

In the interviews that took place on June 26 to 30, around 40 students were invited to the IIMC campus. The first round involved a group discussion after which each candidate met a panel of five people for an individual interview.

Testimonies from students who were interviewed stated that a majority of the questions were casteist and polarising in nature. A student from Delhi University, who is an OBC Muslim and asked not to be named, said that as soon as he entered the room, he was asked his caste. One of the interviewers went on to ask how could a Muslim be an OBC? The prospective student told Newslaundry that he explained that despite Islam not having a caste system, there still were backward caste Muslims. “There are universities that have a separate quota for Muslim OBC. How can a Central University provide that quota if the OBCs in Muslims don’t exist? I got admission in DU under this category, I responded,” the student said.

The panellists, however, were not convinced and asked him to show his caste certificate. “I took out the certificate and handed it over to them saying, you can check the authenticity of this online.” According to the student, one of the panelists picked up his phone and called the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) to clarify his doubt.

A few innocuous questions later, the student was asked to give a two-minute speech to a camera on a subject prepared in advance. “When I was asked about my choice, I said I would like to speak on the 2017 presidential elections.” Apparently, someone from the panel shouted at him to speak on Zakir Naik, a controversial Islamic preacher, on the context of radicalising Muslim youth. “I had no idea and went almost blank on camera. The image of that panelist who shouted at me is still flashing through my mind,” he said.

Another candidate, Rohan Kumar’s first sentence to us was “you can reveal my name, because I don’t want to get into IIMC.” Kumar, who is currently pursuing his MA in French from Jawaharlal Nehru University, said, “Even if I am selected–I’m sure I won’t be–I am not going to take admission there. Because I am extremely disappointed with the questions they asked in the interview”.

On learning that he was from JNU, the panel asked Kumar his stance on the sedition case against Kanhaiya Kumar. Kumar said he was surprised at the question since he was not in the country during the infamous events of February 9 last year but he answered anyway. “If there was anti-India sloganeering (which I never believe happened), I condemn it but such programmes which caused a lot of uproar should be organised and there should be complete freedom of expression in educational institutes especially if it is not life-threatening or a threat to law and order.” He said, despite trying to be as diplomatic as possible, the panel were visibly irritated.

We contacted one of the panelists in the session, Dr Surabhi Dahiya, who is also an associate professor at the department of English journalism. But Dahiya declined to comment, saying she is not authorised to talk to the media.

Kumar also claimed that during the group discussion portion, the candidates were asked about the Modi government’s policies on Kashmir. “The students who said that violence needed to be used to bring peace seemed to be more appreciated than those of us who were opposing this method,” he said.

Another candidate, requesting anonymity, said he was asked to acknowledge that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s strategy was Muslim appeasement. “After several questions on Islam, one of the interviewers compared Marxism and Islam to snakes as they are strategically aimed at gaining more and more power,” said the student. “The most surprising part is I wasn’t asked even a single question from sports journalism, the category that I had applied for,” he said.

We asked a member of the IIMC faculty about this admission process. “Interviews are meant to be interactive. The panelists should not have overriding power on candidates and they should not be judged on grounds of caste, religion and gender. What happened during the interview in a premier public institution is really unfortunate.”

We contacted the Director General of the institute, KG Suresh, about the panel. He told us that for the sake of “transparency and efficiency of interview, we brought in experts from outside.” We asked who these experts were, he declined to name names, simply saying they were from the ‘industry’.

On the allegations made by students, Suresh had this to say, “For a span of five days, two interviews were held each day. How can I find out who asked such questions unless the candidates individually come to me and specify?”

However, if candidates do wish to complain, they have limited time. “But, if any candidate come up saying that he/she was victimised due to caste or religion after we put out the selection list, I won’t be able to do anything,” added Suresh.

IIMC is no stranger to controversy, but allegations such as these and the opacity surrounding them aren’t doing the institute any favours.

Update: Since we first published this story, other students have come forth to allege similar claims. Not just IIMC, but other universities as well. For instance, several students wrote in to us to say that they were asked at the University of Hyderabad, questions such as “Why do Keralites hate the Modi government”, “How can you trust the media on lynching issues?” However we have not verified these claims.  


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