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.
On 25 December, Rao posted an open letter addressed to KG Suresh on his Facebook profile. He described the manner in which his employment had been terminated as “crude and medieval” and said that he was being punished because he had “raised my voice against a number of atrocities being committed against vulnerable people in the campus.” Among these, Rao mentioned “illegal sacking of 25 Dalit safai karamcharis, constant victimization of a Dalit rape survivor, harassment of a Muslim student, who was forced to contemplate suicide, by the reactionary and brahmanical [sic] forces of IIMC.” He stated that that he had also opposed “the rampant attempts being made to saffronise the media education and ethos in the campus (wherein only journalists with Right-wing, Hindutva/RSS leanings are invited for special lectures)” and that he was dismissed because his views were not in line with Suresh’s “personal and political agenda.” “It’s a clear case of vendetta against me for I had been perceived as a liberal voice in the institute,” Rao told me when I met him, on 27 December.
Rao was the second academic staffer in 2016 to publicly accuse IIMC of discriminating against him because of his political stances. In a story published in The Caravan on 10 March 2016, Ishan Marvel reported that Amit Sengupta, a former associate professor of English journalism at IIMC, resigned from his post after he was transferred to IIMC Dhenkenal in Odisha. Sengupta had alleged that he had been transferred because of his active support for the student protestors in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University and for his solidarity with those in IIMC protesting in the wake of the University of Hyderabad scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide. Sengupta had said that the institute’s decision to transfer him was a part of a “larger witch-hunt against intellectual freedom…to target and eliminate individuals who this regime has declared as enemies.” In his report, Marvel also noted that many students and faculty on the IIMC campus backed Sengupta’s claim.