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Alumni and students have protested an invitation to the controversial former inspector general of Bastar, Chattisgarh, SRP Kalluri to speak at a journalism seminar at Delhi’s Indian Institute of Mass Communication on Saturday has drawn protests from some students and alumni. “Should such a media-baiter [Indian Police Service] officer, who is also alleged to have hounded many journalists out of his region, be allowed to speak on the premises of a media institute of international repute?” about 50 alumni said in a letter on Thursday night to the government-run media school’s director general, KG Suresh.
In a letter circulated in the public dommain, they added: “Though we do not dispute any citizen’s right to speak on any issue of public importance…we firmly believe IIMC should deny this right to the likes of…Kalluri who loves to hate the media and media persons...” The police officer, who has been dogged by accusations of having been involved in severe human rights violations, has been invited to speak on marginalised communities at a seminar titled “Vartaman Paripreksh me Rashtriya Patrakarita” or nationalist journalism in today’s context.
It isn’t just Kalluri’s presence that has outraged the protestors: they have criticsed the premise of the seminar itself, which will begin, the invitation promises, with a 7 am yajna – a ritual worship or offering made before a fire.
Over the last few years, Kalluri has been accused of stoking protests against journalists, human rights activists, lawyers and researchers in Bastar. Several, including journalist Malini Subramaniam and human rights lawyer, Shalini Gera had to leave the region following harassment on Kalluri’s watch. He was transferred from his post in February. In March, he was served a disciplinary notice for attending an event in Bastar without official permission. It wasn’t just Kalluri’s presence that had drawn the ire of the protestors: they objected to the theme of the seminar as well. “What defines ‘rashtriya’ journalism?” they asked in their letter. “Has any media school in the world introduced this discourse in its curriculum? What is the origin of the term?....It goes against the scientific and information-driven journalism.”
In addition to the yajna and Kalluri’s piece, the seminar is also scheduled to to feature the editor of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s mouthpiece, Panchjanya.
The seminar is being organised by a group called Media Scan.
Increasingly, at IIMC, the presence of conservative and rightwing groups has grown, drawing consistent protests. Talking to sections of the media, Indian Institute of Mass Communication’s director general KG Suresh described Media Scan as an “organisation of media persons” not affiliated to the Sangh. Suresh said he was unlikely to honour the alumni’s request to scuttle the seminar and, especially, Kalluri’s visit. “If we can listen to the Hurriyat, why can we not listen to Kalluri?” he asked, referring to Tehreek-e-Hurriyat, the Kashmiri separatist party.
A student of the institute, Rohin Kumar had written to him and faculty-members, in protest against the yajna. “The Indian state and its institutions have to maintain [a] “principled distance” from religiosity, is what I was taught,” he wrote. He also argued that the seminar was peddling “jingoism”.
The alumni has countered the director general's defence. “Your bid to wash your hands of the selection of speakers and theme notwithstanding, we believe that IIMC must have convinced itself of the righteousness of [the] seminar’s message before allowing it to be held at IIMC and what impression [it is] going to leave in the national and international community,” they wrote.
Defending himself against charges of allowing the institution to be used to spread RSS propaganda, Suresh pointed out that the campus is virtually empty now. “The academic session is over,” he said. “Except for the few in the hostel – who will vacate by May 31 – there is not even a single student here. Who am I saffronising then? The buildings?” He further said that the event being on a Saturday, no faculty or staff-member will be on campus either. “It will be their [Media Scan’s] own people and invitees,” he said. “If I had to saffronise, I would do it during the academic session.”
The text of the letter circulated by alumni may be read here:
An open letter to DG- IIMC, New Delhi
We, the former students of IIMC, are writing to you to express grave concern over a few developments in the institute.
It is learnt that the institute has given permission to Media Scan for organising a daylong programme on ‘Rashtriya Patrakarita’ which translates as ‘National Journalism’ in English.
You are quoted by ‘The Telegraph’ on May 17, 2017 saying that IIMC is not an organiser but has only rented the premises. You have been quoted thus: "We give our hall for the use of media persons who want to organise an event as long as it is not objectionable, communal, obscene or provocative. Renting the hall is expensive. If I want to help a media organisation, we have to become their partner. Our only support is to give the hall. The organising, selection of speakers, paying for snacks et cetera is up to them. Exams and classes are over and we have not asked students to attend. Also, Saturday is a holiday. Can I stop anyone from lighting a lamp or garlanding an image? The yagna won't be held in the hall…..”
Sir, it is good that the institute has come out in support of media seminars and hope that it would be open to other such events as well in future. You have pointed out that the selection of speakers is not done by the institute. However, if a speaker is going to speak on journalism from the premises of IIMC, an institute which has produced hundreds of thousands of media professionals, and he is known for his open contempt to journalists, then it must ring in bells.
One of the speakers is former IG of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region, Mr SRP Kalluri. While any individual of the country is well within his rights to speak on any issue of public importance in the institute but the background of that person must be looked into. That of Mr Kalluri, at least, doesn’t inspire much confidence as he has often been in news for
openly condemning media.
To cite an instance, he had openly threatened a Hindustan Times journalist recently when he went seeking clarifications for a story the former IG. The IG is quoted in the newspaper’s Nov 14, 2016 report thus: “Aap log aise karenge to hum aapko jaane hi nahi denge ..mere reference se aap gaye the…,” (If you all do like this, we will not let you visit …you went with my reference to Bastar),” an angry Kalluri told Ritesh Mishra.” Earlier, as the same story speaks, he had told the correspondent of the same newspaper, “You write whatever that comes to your mind. We don’t care a damn….” Should an IPS officer, who gives a damn to media, and is alleged to have hounded out many journalists from his region, be allowed to speak on IIMC premises? Sir, you have been a stalwart in journalism and therefore we request to ponder over this question. We, at this juncture, are not bringing forth the human rights abuses that he has been found doing in Bastar for which he has also been admonished by the National Human Rights Commission. “Chhattisgarh
Police raped and assaulted 16 women: NHRC” screamed a newspaper headline about Bijapur region of Bastar range which was taken care of by Mr Kalluri. The full report can be
read accessed through the hyperlink.
To us, the very theme of the seminar, “Rashtriya Patrakarita” sounded perplexing. What exactly is meant by this term? What defines ‘rashtriya’ journalism? Is asking questions or doubting the State considered not ‘rashtriya’? Isn’t these two things fundamental to journalism? Moreover, in our nine-month stay at IIMC, none of our teachers or academics introduced us to this term called ‘national journalism’. Has any media school in the world introduced this discourse in its curriculum? From where does this term stem? In fact, you yourself, taught editing to many a batch. We don’t remember even you using this term. Goes without saying, it goes against the scientific and “information driven journalism".
You have rightly pointed out that since IIMC is not one of the organisers and therefore it hasn’t selected theme, speakers etc. However, we strongly believe that IIMC must have taken care of the fact that as towhat message would be sent from the premises of the, arguably, the largest media school of Asia in the national and international arena. Can IIMC insulate itself from the consequences?
The programme schedule also points out that ‘yagya’ would be organised as a part of the programme. You have clarified that it will not be done in the hall provided by the IIMC. But the same Telegraph report quotes Media Scan proprietor Ashish Kumar. He says, "The yagna will not be performed by a priest but by one of us as organisers. What's wrong in it? Don't we light lamps and garland pictures at functions?". The report further writes, “Yadav said there was a Saraswati idol near the IIMC entrance but could not "recall any ritual" on it.”
We do believe that everyone is entitled to practise his/her faith. We want to bring in here that IIMC’s vision, as stated on its website, says, “The Indian Institute of Mass Communication will set global standards for media education…..contributing to human development, empowerment and participatory democracy, anchored in pluralism….”. We believe any practise done on the institute’s premises of a one particular religion is not in consonance with the very pluralism that the institute boasts of. Had it been an-all religion prayer meeting, then probably we could not have given this argument.
Sir, though we have passed out from the institute, but we still feel a belongingness towards it. We are writing to you with that spirit. We strongly believe that the organisation of the seminar, at heart of which lie many controversies, would badly damage the reputation of IIMC. And as alumni it would deeply pain us. Also, as stated above, it will not gel with the IIMC values and would, therefore, set a very bad precedent. While you have taken the charge of DG sometime back, a few of us had the good fortune of attending your classes as guest faculty when you were receptive to ideas and arguments of all the hues.
Taking into consideration the concerns raised by us, we respectfully demand the cancellation of the permission given to the organisers of this seminar. Also, we hope, that in future, you would consider all these points for the sake of good the institute.
We, the journalists who were students of IIMC
There are over four dozen signatories to this protest letter.