On 17 December, around 100 students of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) assembled at the amphitheatre of their picturesque campus in south Delhi. It was part of a discussion- cum-condolence meeting for University of Hyderabad research scholar Rohith Vemula.
Such debates, although essential for the vibrancy of a media institute, are unusual for IIMC, where bureaucrats from the Information & Broadcasting Ministry keep a tight check on political activities.
The day after, a student of Hindi journalism posted an anti-reservation rant on Facebook, which prompted 17 students to write a letter to the IIMC administration over its “casteist” content.
Upon being questioned, the student apologised for the choice of words used in his post but said that he stands by his views. Referring to an earlier incident on campus, when a copy of the Manusmriti was burned in the hostel as a mark of symbolic protest, he says that his sentiments were hurt by the book burning, although he does not believe in it.
An anti-reservationist, Manusmriti- respecting sentiment in IIMC is especially dangerous since, although there is no evidence that IIMC realises this, the institute is a crucial conduit for Dalit students wishing to enter mainstream media.
IIMC , which has centres in Delhi, Orissa, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Jammu and Kashmir and Kerala is the only public institution offering a diploma course in journalism. Each year, the institute takes the stipulated quota of SC/ST students and offers them scholarships.
In private journalism institutes, the cost of study is too high (upwards of Rs 4 lakhs for a diploma course in journalism). Chennai based Asian College of Journalism (ACJ) is the only private institute which offers fellowships for SC/ST students. However, even there, only 4 seats are allotted out of around 200, coming to a paltry 1.5 percent.
“Ninety percent of ACJ’s student population is upper caste and elitist and consists of people who have no idea of what their caste privileges are,” says Karthikeyan Damodaran, an ACJ alumni who later worked in The Hindu. “However the staff members are very conscious about the caste question and inequality. Their curriculum is set up in a way that has themes and discussions on caste, inequality, marginality and multiple identities.”
It is, of course, possible to enter media directly without holding a journalism degree. This, however, requires networks to which Dalit students seldom have access to.
In 2006, Anil Chamaria, Jitendra Kumar and Yogendra Yadav executed a survey which found that not one of the key decision makers in national media belonged to the Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes.
The survey found that although Hindu upper caste men constitute only 8 percent of the population, they occupy 71 percent of decision making positions in national media.