THERE is disquiet at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) in New Delhi, a top institute for education in journalism and mass communication, over the suspension this week of a student who, writing for a news portal, drew attention to the sacking last month of a campus academic associate. Several students, who also backed the sacked employee, claim that their online activities are since being monitored and parents of some have been called by IIMC authorities and cautioned — a charge the institute head denies.
Rohin Kumar, a student of the Hindi journalism course at the autonomous but government-owned IIMC, was suspended on January 9 for “making wild allegations against the institute through his writings in online media on a matter which is sub judice and provoking students to create unrest on the campus and thereby vitiating the academic atmosphere”.
Two days earlier, Kumar, who wrote as Rohin Verma (he was called that in the suspension order), had written in Newslaundry about the sacking of Narendra Singh Rao – it was headlined ‘Academic Associate Sacked, Students Put Under Surveillance: All Happening In IIMC’. The piece criticised the institute’s leadership for what it called its ideological bias.
An academic associate in the advertising and public relations department, Rao was fired in December. At that time, Rao was on a medical leave due to “acute anxiety”. He had applied for medical leave on December 19. On December 21, his contract was terminated with immediate effect, about three months before it was due for renewal.
Rao challenged the termination of his contract before the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) on January 3. On Friday, PTI reported that the Delhi High Court refused to interfere with the order of CAT which had declined to grant him any immediate relief. The High Court bench said Rao can raise the issue before the tribunal where a hearing is scheduled on January 30.
Meanwhile, Rohin Kumar has also been barred from entering the campus, including the institute hostel. The suspension order stated that a final decision will be taken by a disciplinary committee – it has not met since.
Students allege that in an institute that is supposed to produce independent journalists and communicators, there is now constant monitoring of their personal social media posts. Parents of some of the students who supported Rao have also been called. Some students said they were under pressure to withdraw their support to Rao.
Screenshots of what they write in their class WhatsApp groups and what they post on Facebook have been allegedly made available to their heads of departments. Parents of some have been cautioned that the politics of their wards can impact their placements at the end of the year.
Reached for comment, K G Suresh, Director General of IIMC, said he had made no such calls. “Neither have I stopped nor asked anyone to make such calls,” he said.
Screenshots of WhatsApp messages sent by five students who were supportive of Rao were allegedly shared with Surbhi Dahiya, Dean of Students Welfare who became course director of the advertising and public relations department in November – of which Rao was a part. These students were called to Dahiya’s office on December 26 and were shown a file with printouts of their social media posts and messages, some students claimed.
The students were later taken to the office of Suresh who, they claimed, told them that there were two sides to the story of Rao’s sacking, and that they must listen to both.
When The Indian Express sought her comments, Dahiya said she was not authorised to speak to the media.
Five students were called before the disciplinary committee – it included Dahiya – on December 29. They were told that their social media posts were “tarnishing” the image of the institute.
The committee issued an order advising students to “strictly adhere to the Code of Conduct for students including Social Media Policy” and “maintain peace and congenial academic atmosphere on the Campus”. The students said after they refused to accept the order, copies were sent to their parents. A copy of the “Code of Conduct” was also uploaded on the IIMC website on December 29.
On December 26, five days after sacking Rao, IIMC issued an order that “debarred” him from entering the institute premises, including hostels and quarters. The order stated that Rao had been “raising passions on caste and communal lines and trying to vitiate the peaceful atmosphere” of the institute. Rao put up this order on his Facebook page on December 27 and wrote: “After seeing massive protest against my arbitrary and illegal termination on social media, in a bid to do ‘damage control’ by any means, IIMC administration is further resorting to the most repressive and draconian measures.”
Rao told The Indian Express that Facebook took down his post the same evening. Suresh said Rao was mounting a “vicious” propaganda, and that is why the order had to be issued.
Suresh said that since Rao’s contract stated that he could be fired without any notice, his sacking was done “purely under the law”. He said the institute was not satisfied with Rao’s attitude. He said he felt that Rao’s “continuance was not in the interest” of the institute and that is why he was sacked before his contract ended.
“If my sacking (order) is illegal, he can go to court,” Suresh said. He said he had in fact been “over considerate” since the order allowed payment of a month’s salary to Rao though the contract did not stipulate that.
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