THE INFORMATION and Broadcasting Ministry has ordered a probe into allegations of derogatory remarks against Dalits and Adivasis posted on social media by a student at the prestigious Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC).
After some students raised the issue with IIMC authorities, one of them has approached the National Commission of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes with a formal petition.
“The matter was brought to our notice on Tuesday by an IIMC official. Joint secretary Mihir Kumar Singh, who is also the administrative joint secretary for IIMC, has been asked to inquire into it and submit a report to the ministry by February 10,” a senior I&B official told The Indian Express.
In his complaint to the national commission, Prashant Kanojia — a student of English Journalism at the institute — has accused a fellow student of making derogatory remarks which he says caused “severe distress” amid Dalits and Adivasis.
“Dalits were abused in these Facebook posts. And then, there were students who started supporting these abusive posts. We filed a complaint with the IIMC authorities but realised that the institute does not have a mechanism in place to deal with something like this,” Kanojia said.
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The institute approached the ministry after 17 Dalit and Adivasi students wrote to its authorities asking for “sensitisation classes” to prevent the spreading of “ill will” against SC/ST students.
In the aftermath of the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in the University of Hyderabad, SC/ST students of IIMC had spoken against caste discrimination and expressed solidarity with the students. As a result, they said, they were subjected to “derogatory” and “casteist” remarks, along with an abusive Facebook post by a fellow student.
“In the Facebook post, the student alleged that those speaking on Dalit issues were politicising the issue and were responsible for perpetuating the caste system by taking advantage of reservations, which are given as “bheekh” (alms) to the lower castes,” said a student, and a signatory to the letter.
The students said they wrote two letters — dated January 29 and February 1 — to IIMC authorities as well as the Ministry of Social Justice, and Ministry of Tribal Affairs, asking for sensitisation classes.
In their letter to the IIMC administration on February 1, the aggrieved students had pointed out that social media had been flooded with hashtags supporting the “perpetrator” and that “freedom of speech and expression” was being used to defend the abusive and derogatory remarks.
“Comments are being passed and remarks made aloud when the students pass through the corridors in the college and hostels. We would be forced to take legal recourse against our will, if things continue the same way because of the prevailing tension we aren’t able to focus on studies (sic),” reads the letter.
“We do not want any punitive action except a public apology and undertaking against the person writing or spreading such messages, we would beg to request a slot in the academic timetable to be allocated for sensitizing of all the students by experts in the field of Caste/Tribe reality and affirmative action, to promote amicability and inclusivity on campus,” it reads.
IIMC officials said that “quick and proactive” actions had been taken as soon as the letter was received. “We’ve put forward a proposal to set up a committee to look into the matter and deliberate on the demands of the students. There were meetings of the faculty called immediately, and both parties were heard. The students who had complained also seemed to be satisfied with the steps taken,” said a senior official, who did not wish to be named.
A faculty member said the student who posted the derogatory comment has apologised. “He kept saying that that he was from Varanasi and that the use of abusive language was common there. But the point is that this not about one person, there are others like him who can’t seem to digest Dalits and Adivasis speaking up for themselves,” said the faculty member.