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.
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.
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”.
Suresh countered that the media institute had little control over either the guest-list or the programme, including the yajna. “Media Scan sought space and I gave it to them,” he told Scroll.in. “They have decided on whom to invite and it is their guests who will attend. Earlier, the jury of the Laadli Media Awards had wanted space for their meeting and I gave them.”
The alumni refused to buy this argument. “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.”