The curious case of IIMC
As students of the institute allege online surveillance and arbitrary punishments, the administration defends itself by saying that institutional indiscipline has reached peak levels and must be tackled
Shibu Kumar Tripathi Delhi
The Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), the country’s premiere journalism school is in the news once again for all the wrong reasons. The latest controversy to hit the institute revolves around what many claim is the gradual clampdown on freedom of speech in the campus. In the eye of the storm is Rohin Kumar, a student of Hindi Journalism who has been suspended for what the college administration allegedly calls an overtly defamatory post. Kumar appeared before the disciplinary committee on Thursday. The committee is yet to reach a decision on whether his suspension will continue or be revoked.
Many have pointed out the irony that an institute that is supposed to champion free speech is curtailing it instead. Students in the institute-speaking on the condition of anonymity-told us that an atmosphere of fear and tension is prevailing in the campus ever since Kumar was suspended. According to them the fear of any possible reprisal is preventing them from freely expressing their opinions. Many feel that the lack of healthy debate in the classrooms is stunting their intellectual growth.
Rohin Kumar (he goes by the name of Rohin Verma on Facebook) was handed over the suspension letter on January 9, two days after his report detailing the sacking of an Academic Associate in the Delhi campus was published on a news portal. The suspension order came with an additional clause debarring Kumar from the campus. After he met his department head Hemant Joshi and informed his classmates about the sudden order, he was escorted out by the security guards on the campus. Speaking to Hardnews he was critical of the administration's conduct. He said, “I was suspended about a week ago and it took eight days for the disciplinary committee to convene, during the meeting I was told that the article I wrote was defamatory in nature and tarnished the image of IIMC. The suspension notice had no information about the clauses of the code of conduct that I violated.”
Calling the decision to suspend him ‘absurd’ he expressed that it all started with the termination of Academic Associate Naren Rao. Immediately after the termination of Rao, students of the Radio and Television (RTV) Department created a hashtag #IStandWithNaren on social networking sites in his support. This act of defiance met with a stern warning and a notice from the administration. The notice called upon these students to explain their actions in front of a disciplinary committee on December 27-28. The reason: they had violated the social media code of conduct. At this point it must be noted that the copy of the social media code of conduct was first uploaded on the IIMC website on December 29-one full day after the meeting was held. In effect the students were called to answer for violating a code of conduct which did not exist but was framed later and then retrospectively applied.
The faculty of the institute declined to comment on the issue saying that only Director General(DG) KG Suresh is authorised to speak on the matter. Professor Anand Pradhan who is also a member of the committee convened to look into the matter declined to comment on the issue and said, “I am a member of the committee and I am not in a position to speak on the matter until and unless the committee gives its verdict on the issue.”
Many students from RTV and Hindi Journalism who wished to remain anonymous hinted that their online activities are being closely monitored by the administration-especially their Facebook post and tweets. There have been instances where students looking to curry favour with their teachers end up showing them rants posted by other students on Whatsapp groups. One student pointed out that the institute had become like America during the Cold War where everyone suspected everyone of being a Soviet spy.
Justifying the suspension as the natural punishment for institutional indiscipline, DG KG Suresh said, “Rohin Kumar has been writing and defaming the institution for some time now and we said nothing, the last straw was when he wrote on a matter which is sub-judice in court and made baseless allegations against IIMC. In his article he starts adjudicating on a matter which is with the honourable court, denigrating the institution by making sweeping defamatory comments, which is unacceptable.”
Defending his decision to suspend and debar the HJ student from the campus, KG Suresh further added that the decision was taken after Rohin started inciting other students.
The DG also attacked former Academic Associate Naren Rao and former Associate Professor Amit Sengupta for sharing Rohin’s online post. According to him Kumar is a protege` of these ex-employees. Talking to Hardnews Naren Rao said, “It's a laughable thing to say that a trainee journalist who has been regularly getting published needed guidance in writing a letter to the administration, it's a nice way to put the blame on others. The changes taking place inside the campus are an open secret, what the DG thinks about freedom of expression is evident from his recent Facebook post comparing private media houses with a public institution.” Former Associate Professor Amit Sengupta declined to comment on the matter saying that he does not want to be involved in the matters of IIMC anymore.
Indian Institute of Mass Communication Alumni Association (IIMCA), the national students body which represents the alumni and students of the institute is yet to say anything on the matter. Members of the association issued no comment when contacted.
Meanwhile, numerous alumni of IIMC who expressed their support for Rohin and wrote against the decision to suspend him were blocked from the Facebook and Twitter handles of the institution. The DG responded to the relentless online heckling through a Facebook post in which he questioned and challenged journalists to write against their employers. According to him this was the equivalent of IIMC students criticising their own institute. The post garnered extreme levels of criticism from alumni and former associates of the institute. For many this obeisance to an authority figure does not bode well. Many alumni expressed their distaste by pointing out that the institute’s raison d etre` should be to produce honest and independent journalists rather than sycophantic and insecure wage slaves who will say anything that their masters want to hear.
When asked about the growing restriction on freedom of expression within the campus the DG retorted, “I have all the respect for freedom of speech and expression. When former students and a certain group of students of the current batch wreaked havoc on social media by calling me many kinds of names and used abusive terms, I have kept quiet. But in the name of freedom of expression I will not tolerate institutional indiscipline. If you have a democratic right to speak anything, I have a democratic right to block you, it is the right given to me by Twitter and Facebook. I am the head of this institution and I will decide what is good for the institution not any outsider.” By the time this piece was written more than half a dozen students were blocked by IIMC from its official pages.
As the matter escalates many students and faculties are worried sick that their placements might get affected. The Director General had hinted that this academic session might see a change in the placement calendar as placements might likely take place in the month of March as opposed to February.
IIMC has been making news for all the wrong reason over the past few years. In February 2016, it became embroiled in controversy after a student alleged that he was discriminated on the basis of caste. The institute found itself engulfed in another storm when a female student in its Dhenkanal campus alleged that an academic associate had sexually harassed her. The latest controversy casts a bad light on an institution that is already plagued by falling academic standards and poor placements. Meanwhile Rohin Kumars’ fate hangs in the balance.