Was the Attempt to Transfer Amit Sengupta From the IIMC Indicative of Government Interference?

10 March 2016
On 1 March, Sengupta received an order informing him that he had been transferred to IIMC Dhenkanal, in Orissa. Three days later, Sengupta resigned.
Courtesy Amit Sengupta
On 1 March, Sengupta received an order informing him that he had been transferred to IIMC Dhenkanal, in Orissa. Three days later, Sengupta resigned.
Courtesy Amit Sengupta

On 5 March around noon, a day after his resignation from the post of associate professor of English journalism (EJ) at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), Delhi, I met Amit Sengupta at his home in Mayur Vihar. He discussed the problems ailing his alma mater, from where he received a one-year EJ diploma in 1981. Among the various shortcomings he accused the institute of—such as inadequacies in the course and its implementation, politically motivated appointments, shortage of teaching staff, and a general atmosphere of bureaucracy—the most vehement accusation was that there was no actual journalism being taught at the institute. “They want to create robot-like products for the market with no critical thinking or journalistic skills,” Sengupta alleged, before adding, “My transfer was a punishment posting, and a case of victimisation right from the top at MIB (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting). I have done what I had to do—but it’ll be enough of a tribute to me if my students become independent journalists and good human beings.”

I spoke to over thirty IIMC alumni and students, all of whom were taught by Sengupta after he joined in October 2013. Almost all of them concurred with his remarks. In addition, they stressed that Sengupta was one of the few exceptions among the faculty, who inspired them to think politically, beyond the sanitised academic routine—and that perhaps he was targeted by the authorities for the same reason.

On 1 March, Sengupta received an order signed by Anurag Misra—an Indian Information Service (IIS) officer who currently serves as an officer on special duty (OSD) at IIMC—informing him that he had been transferred to IIMC Dhenkanal, in Orissa. Three days later, Sengupta responded with a resignation letter that he later posted on his Facebook account. He wrote that no official reason for the transfer was given, and there had been no prior discussion about a move. He alleged that this treatment was meted out due to his active support for the student protestors of Jawaharlal Nehru University and for his solidarity with those in IIMC protesting the institutional death of Rohith Vemula. Sengupta wrote: “This is part of a larger witch-hunt against intellectual freedom, academic autonomy and professional excellence, to target and eliminate individuals who this regime has declared as enemies for reasons only they know.”

A former student who graduated in 2014 and who did not wish to be named, and who now works as a political correspondent, described Sengupta as a “breath of fresh air in the dull and bureaucratic atmosphere of IIMC.” “He was anti-establishment through and through, and always sided with the students on issues like boys’ hostel, attendance, etc.” Unlike other teachers, the correspondent said, who either steered clear of political subjects, or did not express an opinion, Sengupta would “passionately talk about Nandigram, Naxalbari, Kandhamal, the POCSO act”—the violent 2007 clash between farmers and the government in the Nandigram region of West Bengal, the 1972 peasant revolt in the three areas in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, the 2008 communal violence in Kandhamal in Odisha, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act—“and mix it up with poetry and philosophy. He was an outsider. He unsettled IIMC.”

Many students mentioned that the political climate at IIMC had worsened over subsequent years from 2013 to the present, and especially since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government came to power in 2014. Echoing Sengupta, several students said that their biggest grievances were the lack of emphasis on practical journalism in the courses, and the sterile teaching methods of certain teachers. Rama Dwivedi, who graduated in 2014, explained, “Most teachers, including EJ course directors over the years, have been academics with no journalistic background. As a result, there was no political atmosphere at IIMC.” Dwivedi said that things began to change after Sengupta joined and “quickly became popular with the students.” Furqan Faridi, who graduated in 2015, said, “The IIMC course is completely obsolete. It is limited to theoretical aspects, and has nothing do with how the industry actually works.” Faridi, too, said that Sengupta was “the exception,” who would ask his students to cover “rallies and create lab journals on topical subjects like the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and Charlie Hebdo.”

Ishan Marvel is a reporter at Vantage, The Caravan.

Keywords: journalism IIMC Amit Sengupta