A little after 9.20 pm on 18 December 2016, Narendra Singh Rao, an academic associate at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), Delhi, who had been working in the institution since 2010, sent an email to its director general, KG Suresh. In the email, Rao alleged that his superior, Surbhi Dahiya, an associate professor at IIMC and the course director for the Advertising and Public Relations department—commonly referred to as Ad&PR in the institute—had been “purposefully and persistently” subjecting him to “brute harassment and gross victimisation” since she was appointed course director, in early November 2016.
Rao alleged that Dahiya had unceremoniously removed the classes he had been teaching from the schedule, and had asked him to complete the remaining course in unofficial classes. He added that she had encouraged the students of Ad&PR to not attend his classes. Further, Rao claimed, Dahiya had been confining him to clerical work, and had excluded him from every “serious and real academic activity in the department.” He wrote that he believed Dahiya had encouraged another staffer—he later told me was referring to her personal assistant, Deepak Kumar—to misbehave with him. Towards the end of the email, Rao wrote that he was “awfully depressed and suffering from acute stress related headache and low blood pressure.” “Heaven forbids if anything happens to me (including my death), Ms. Surbhi Dahiya and IIMC administration will be responsible,” he added.
The next morning, close to 9 am, Rao wrote another mail to Suresh, seeking medical leave. He cited the same health issues as his previous letter, adding that he was receiving treatment at the Sitaram Bhartia hospital in Delhi. While he was still on leave, on 22 December, to Rao’s surprise, he received a letter issued by the IIMC’s deputy registrar PVK Raja. Issued a day earlier, the letter terminated Rao’s position as academic associate with immediate effect. It cited clause 1 of Rao’s contractual agreement—which stated that his “services can be terminated at anytime without assigning any reason”—as the basis for his dismissal.