Controversy at IIT Madras – A case against Indian Media

I drive past IITM on my way to work everyday. The campus is usually peaceful and I smile as I drive past and I sight a deer or two.

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Obligatory IIT Gate Pic…

Over the last week, however, I’ve had to see one gate blocked and a line of cars outside the other gate waiting to be let in by the police (and there are a lot of them at the gate). It feels jarring to see police at the gate instead of students.

I’ve been following the news about IIT Madras and APSC from the exciting front page headline to the recent moral victory over the tyranny of the administration. Please understand that I’m not judging the incident itself or the way it was handled by IIT Madras. This piece is about the hypocrisy of the Indian mainstream media and their willingness to stoop to any level for the sake of TRP’s.

To start with, I am confused. Why is the administration’s stand considered inappropriate? Should allegations of hate speech be left uninvestigated*? Should pamphlets like these (Google Drive image)**, be allowed to circulate unchecked in the face of complaints?

I’m personally not offended by any of APSC’s statements, yet that’s not the point. Giving offence doesn’t construe hate speech. But the right to free speech is not limited to the right to offend. The one who is offended has a right to press allegations of hate speech and both parties have a social responsibility to engage in debate or take their dispute to the judiciary. In short, responsible free speech does not have room for intellectual hit and run.

My stand is quite simple. I don’t know enough about the inner workings of IIT Madras. I don’t know enough about the issue at hand to be able to take the moral high ground. But I do think as consumers of Indian media we need to ask some questions and give the institute a chance to defend itself.

This is the version of the incident as the media (and the office of Shri Rahul Gandhi) reported it:

  1. Innocent boys disagree with Prime Minister
  2. RSS forces Ministry directive to ban said group
  3. Courageous media takes on sociopathic middle-aged academics
  4. Media/RaGa restore rights of the innocent
  5. IIT’s privileged groups hang their heads in shame

This is the version of events as the institute reports it (from the institute student newspaper):

  1. Group allowed to carry out activities. No restrictions imposed
  2. Group puts out controversial pamphlets using taxpayer funded infrastructure. Verbal warnings given.
  3. Anonymous complaint goes to HRD, HRD forwards to institute. Investigation shows potential hate speech.
  4. Group temporarily de-recognized until next meeting of student council. This meeting to happen whenever group chooses.
  5. Activities may continue on or off campus but official letterheads/venues may not be used.
  6. Group jumps to mainstream and social media. Does not engage in discussion.

The context:

  1. The group was de-recognized, not banned. De-recognition means the group of students may continue their activities but not in official meeting spaces***.
  2. The rules governing student bodies are ratified by the students themselves with help of the administration.
  3. Students are part of the governing committee who hear the case of de-recognized groups. Student groups answer to the student body, not the administration. The administration merely facilitates the functioning.

Not only are media not reporting facts, they’re deliberately spreading misinformation. Instead of providing an analysis, they’re roping in the “Harvard Elite” and other pseudo-intellectuals to write self-righteous pieces.

They have roped in the eminent men of our times to write ill-considered, self righteous pieces like this, this, and this (unlike some of my friends, I have no compunction in calling it as I see it. Expertise in one area does not preclude idiocy in another). They have soundbites from  every politician including the one to rule them all. And distorted facts beyond recognition (lmgtfy). In fact, Quora has more information than any mainstream news source (opinion piece by IIT faculty here).

What is the relevance of the opinion of mathematicians from Harvard on this matter? Why this obsession with what “the white man” thinks of us uncivilized natives? Why this perverse need to project the worst about one of our premier institutes instead of reporting the facts? Why does T. M. Krishna’s opinion on this event even matter? (sorry P, I think he’s written a rather pretentious piece).

In fact, I’m hard-pressed to find a citation for any of the facts pertaining to this incident beyond what I hear from my friends on campus. I cannot find a single quote from the director of the institute putting forth IIT’s side of the story anywhere in the main news articles.

Free speech and free media are the cornerstone of democracy, I agree. Free speech allows me to write this without fear. Yet democracy is undermined when we abuse the right to free speech to report falsehoods or spew hate. Democracy doesn’t mean we report one voice more than another or hold a trial by media. Perhaps IITM is guilty of oppression. But we are guilty too, of succumbing to sensationalism.

There are more people out there defending Maggi than listening to IITM’s side of the story. Isn’t that a pity?

At least Faking News is doing the needful.

* The group was de-recognized until a proper investigation could take place. They were not prevented from carrying out their activities in any other way. It might seem a minor point but it’s important because they did not lose their right to free speech even on campus, only some privileges were revoked until a formal hearing could take place.

** Errata: deleted the phrase “with the IITM logo on them no less” since only the name and not logo of institute was used. I still stand by my argument, however, since the focus of this piece is to highlight biased reporting and not to provide opinion on the incident itself.

*** Errata: Similar correction made as above with respect to restrictions on use of logo.

4 Replies to “Controversy at IIT Madras – A case against Indian Media”

  1. Thanks for the post, Goddess – I have duly advertised it on fb 🙂
    As for TMK’s piece, it is as sanctimonious and pretentious as any of the other “intellectual” pieces floating around – glad you called it out for it is. (Guess I haven’t made it sufficiently clear that I’m not so enamored of the beta version :P)

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