IIMC's Call for 'Yagna' Before Seminar an Attempt to Saffronise the Institute, Allege Students

Students and alumni have alleged that this is the latest attempt of the director general K.G. Suresh, who is associated with the Sangh, to promote the Hindutva agenda in the institute.

Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi. Credit: IIMC website

New Delhi: One of the leading journalism institutes of the country, the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), has once again stoked controversy with its announcement of a ‘yagna’ inside the premises in which the publisher of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) mouthpiece, Panchajanya, will participate. On May 20, the IIMC is holding a day-long seminar titled ‘Nationalistic Journalism in Current Scenario: Media and Myth’ and will be kicked off with a yagna – a sacrifice or offering in the Hindu ritual tradition involving the lighting of a fire and conducted as an act of ‘purification’. The seminar will focus on a variety of topics, including ‘nationalistic journalism’, reporting on Naxalism, rewriting history, the question of the deprived classes and the Kashmir issue.

The institute is collaborating with Media Scan, a weekly newspaper that has been in circulation since 2007. Umesh Chaturvedi, the newspaper’s editor and a senior journalist, will participate in the seminar as a speaker. Ashish Anshu, the organiser of the seminar, said, “The media is creating an unnecessary controversy around the issue. Why do people have a problem with a yagna? It only purifies the surroundings.”

According to the invitation letter, the controversial former inspector general (IG) of Bastar range S.R.P. Kalluri has been invited to speak on the issue of deprived classes. Anshu said, “He [Kalluri] has sent his best wishes for the programme. It is not certain whether he will be able to join us. But he said he will try his best to participate in the programme.”

The poster of the May 20 function. Credit: Facebook

It has been alleged that during Kalluri’s tenure as the Bastar IG, incidents of oppression of tribal villagers, abduction, burning of villages, alleged rapes of tribal women by security forces personnel and other cases of human rights violation escalated.

The event has generated protests on social media by IIMC students and alumni. They allege that most of the speakers invited to the seminar are neither established journalists nor have they made any significant contribution to journalism. One of the sessions in the seminar will be moderated by Hitesh Shankar, the publisher of Panchajanya.

Rohin Kumar, a student of journalism at IIMC, said, “There is no logic behind inviting the publisher of Panchajanya. If it is so, then the director general must announce that he is working for a certain ideology. The institute has people from other ideologies and communities as well as atheists. Will such a programme not hurt their sentiments? It is nothing but an attempt to saffronise the institute.”

“India is a secular country,” Kumar added. “How can a yagna be held in a government organisation which is run on taxpayers’ money? How can journalism be ‘nationalistic’? If a civil war takes place in the country in the future and rights are violated, are the journalists supposed to side with the government? A journalist should speak on behalf of the people and not the government.”

K.G. Suresh, who is associated with the Sangh, was appointed the director general of IIMC last year and has allegedly been promoting the Hindutva agenda in the institute and sidelining alternative views.

Commenting on the upcoming programme, Suresh told The Wire, “The programme is being organised by Media Scan and the institute is merely assisting them. We will join the seminar at 9:30 a.m. What they do before it is none of our business. During the UPA’s rule, a Saraswati idol was installed in the campus. No one had any objection to it then. Why are they opposing it now?”

On the question of religious rituals in a government institution in a secular country, Suresh said, “My secularism is Indian, not foreign. Our secularism includes all religions. Tomorrow, if someone organises a namaz programme in the institute, I will not have any objection.”

Ashutosh Rai, an IIMC student, condemned the programme. “It is an attempt to force majoritarianism upon us. To hold a ritual like a yagna in a government institute is morally wrong and it will end all journalistic discussions. Religion is a subject to which most people do not raise an objection. The top officials in the institute are using this to carry out their agenda.”

“If such religious programmes in a journalism institute become normal, Asaram might hold his satsang too when he is released from jail. Such incidents are tarnishing the image of the institute. Those holding significant posts are responsible for it,” Rai said.

The Wire sought the opinion of professors of the institute who are participating in the May 20 programme, but most refused to comment. One professor told The Wire that he had no official information regarding any such programme even though the institute should have issued a circular and informed everyone.

Another IIMC student, Raghavendra Saini, praised the institute for holding the seminar. In a Facebook post, he urged Suresh to organise more such programmes in the future.

Past controversies 

The IIMC has been hit by a number of controversies during the past year. In December, an academic associate at the institute, Naren Singh Rao, was abruptly removed from his post allegedly for protesting against the dismissal of 25 Dalit workers. His contract was terminated without assigning any reason. The matter is in court at present.

Rao, a former student as well as a teacher at IIMC, said, “It is unfortunate that one of the country’s leading journalism institutes has now become a playground of the fascist forces. The professors and workers are maintaining silence on all incidents out of fear. The students of the institute, as well as the alumni, must protest against it and stop any particular ideology from taking over it. The institute has given this country some of the best journalists. Such programmes are only an insult to all of them.”

After Rao’s expulsion, Rohin Kumar had written a piece in Newslaundry following which he was suspended from the institute. Commenting on his suspension, Suresh had asked why a report was written on a matter that was pending in court.

Responding to Suresh’s remarks that he would welcome namaz on campus, students allege that several journalists like P. Sainath, who do not have links with the RSS, are barred from entering the institute.

The institute has been surrounded by controversies since the suicide of Hyderabad University Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula last year. In March 2015, complaints were made against the Facebook posts of some Dalit students.

Amit Sen Gupta, who taught at the institute, resigned after he was transferred to the institute’s Odisha centre, allegedly for participating in a discussion on Vemula’s suicide. He accused the institute of trying to suppress his views. At present, Gupta is teaching journalism at various institutes and is working an independent journalist.

In another incident, a female sanitation worker in the institute had accused a clerk of raping her. The victim’s husband has alleged that they were being pressured to withdraw the complaint. He also accused some officials of offering them a bribe to hush up the matter. The victim claimed that the father of the accused is employed with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which is why they are delaying the matter. The matter is sub judice and the accused is out on bail.

Students also alleged surveillance at IIMC. Sachin, a radio and TV journalism student, said, “They sidelined us because of our ideology right from the time we joined the institute. Whenever we raised our voice on any issue, letters were sent to our families complaining that we were ruining the image of the institution. The dean of student welfare had threateningly told me that they had the screenshots of my Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages. Though she is the dean of students’ welfare, she works for the welfare of her bosses in the institute. We are adults and have the right to take our decisions. The institute’s job is to teach journalism and not morality and ideology. I don’t understand why our teachers try to become our parents.”

Sachin further adds, “The institute invites people having links with the RSS and those who ask questions are labelled anti-nationals. Some students claim to have the back of the DG and threaten to beat up anyone.”

Last week, an incident of misinformation in response to an RTI was reported at IIMC.

An RTV journalism student Ankit Singh said, “The DG never interacts with the students. In response to any question, he asks us to file an RTI. When an RTI is filed, their information officer provides misinformation. How can a communication institute have such lack of communication?”

Singh had filed an RTI seeking information regarding a programme organised jointly by the IIMC and RSS-affiliated Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF). In his response, the information officer claimed that no record was available of any such programme.

Commenting on the issue, Suresh told The Wire that the information officer had mistakenly sent the incorrect response. It happened because of a lack of communication. He said that Singh would be sent a fresh response but he has not received a reply yet.

Suresh has been accused of attempting to saffronise the institute. Before his appointment as director general, Suresh held a significant post at VIF. Several members of the foundation have been offered significant posts in the government and it casts a strong influence. Besides Suresh, national security advisor Ajit Doval and Delhi lieutenant Anil Baijal have been associated with VIF.

In an article published in The Pioneer in June 2015, Suresh had referred to Jawaharlal Nehru University as “the hub of anti-nationals and Naxalites”.

Meanwhile, IIMC students have accused Suresh of not answering questions raised by them and if a question is posted on Twitter, he blocks the profile. Several students have been blocked by the official handle of IIMC as well.

Saket Anand was blocked by the IIMC Twitter account when he tweeted seeking information about the joint programme organised by the IIMC and VIF. Anand wrote in a post on Facebook, “Someone tell the DG of IIMC to stop promoting the RSS and instead work towards restoring journalistic values.”

Another IIMC student, on condition of anonymity, said, “Questioning authority is the first thing taught in any journalism institute. Isn’t blocking in such a way an attempt to end the tradition of questioning authority? I was also blocked because I dared to question. The institute has given us prominent journalists like Nidhi Razdan, Deepak Chaurasiya, Sudhir Chaudhary, Chitra Subramanyam, Neelesh Mishra, Sonal Kalra and Vartika Nanda. Do they share a similar view of journalism?”

According to an Indian Express report, the Ministry of Information and Broadcast had initially opposed the appointment of Suresh as IIMC director general owing to his lack of experience. However, he was still offered the post because of his association with the RSS.

Addressing students at the convocation of the batch of 2015-16, information and broadcasting minister M. Venkaiah Naidu urged young journalists to take up journalism for nation-building. His advice to future journalists had sparked a protest on social media. A former student of journalism said, “We do not need tips on journalism from Naidu.”

IIMC DG K.G. Suresh (left) and information and broadcasting minister Venkaiah Naidu. Credit: Twitter

In a statement given to a website, Suresh had reportedly said that he had reduced the influence of JNU on the institute. A former student said, “Why would the director general of one institute speak in such a way against another institute? His piece in The Pioneer published June 2015 gives a clear answer to this question.”

A few months ago, Dalit thinker Dilip Mandal’s book Media Ka Underworld was removed from the curriculum. Instead of journalism, said a student, “we are being given lessons on how to glorify the government.”

This article was originally published in The Wire Hindi and has been translated by Naushin Rehman.