Thursday, September 27, 2012
Gopu Mohan : Chennai, Mon Sep 03 2012, 01:34 hrs
A squabble between a photojournalist and a faculty member of the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras triggered by incidents in the aftermath of a student’s suicide has snowballed into a major struggle between the institute and the media, with a police case being registered and a professor absconding.
The incident happened on August 21 when the media came to the institute to report the suicide of an MTech student, Nerugu Manasa. According to reports, as photojournalist Albin Mathew of The New Indian Express (not connected to this paper) was taking pictures of the hostel and some of the grieving students, a senior faculty, Prakash M Maiya, asked him to stop, saying he was making the girl students uneasy. Maiya is also the chairman of the council of wardens.
An argument ensued, and the professor along with a few security guards allegedly manhandled Mathew. The photojournalist and his newspaper claim the guards and the faculty assaulted him and tried to snatch his camera, and detained him for about an hour in the administrative building. After the newspaper took up the matter with senior officials, police were called in.
According to the institute, dean of students L S Ganesh first urged Mathew not to take photos of the students. When Mathew persisted, hostel warden Indumathi Nambi requested him to delete the “objectionable pictures”. Nambi then asked the hostel affairs secretary Praveen to ensure that the pictures were deleted. It was at this juncture that professor Maiya intervened, leading to the alleged altercation. The institute also claims that it was Mathew who assaulted the professor first.
On Mathew’s complaint, police registered a case of rioting, wrongful confinement, voluntarily causing hurt and threat to cause death against Maiya and the security personnel.
Three security persons have been arrested, while Maiya is absconding.
To defuse tension, IIT-M director Bhaskar Ramamurthi issued a statement the next day of the altercation, regretting the “unfortunate incident” and apologising to Mathew and media at large. But by then, various associations representing media personnel including the Chennai Press Club, Madras Reporters’ Guild and Tamil Nadu Union of Working Journalists had taken up the matter with police and institute higher-ups seeking action. Several political parties, too, joined in their protest.
This prompted the administration to go on the offensive. In subsequent letter to editors, reporters’ guild and the Press Council of India, Ramamurthi said the institute would lodge a complaint against the “unethical behaviour of the photojournalist”. He alleged in the letter, signed by faculty members and students who were present at the time of the incident, that the photographer abused and punched Maiya.
Without naming Mathew, the institute lodged a case of assault and under Section 4 of Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Women Harassment Act.To counter this, The New Indian Express published a full-page package including photographs Mathew took to claim that none of the pictures was close-ups of girl students as alleged by the IIT administration.
Deputy resident editor, The New Indian Express, G Babu Jayakumar told The Indian Express: “When the persons there tried to snatch the camera from him, Mathew held on to it like any professional in the situation would do. For that he was beaten up. Instead of manhandling him, the authorities there should have either contacted the police or the journalist’s higher-ups and then checked the camera with their assistance to see if their suspicion of him having taken any objectionable photos was true.”