Jan 23, 2010
Is the Post Graduate Department of Mass Communication and Journalism (MCJ) of Mangalore University jinxed? One is forced to ask this question as the department which was established 22 years back has been in the news in the last few years for all wrong reasons. The department and ill-fated students have seen it all –strikes, agitations, dharnas, memorandums, judicial intervention in the form of stay orders etc., thus maligning the credibility of the department beyond redemption. The students-lecturers in this department have always been at loggerheads. One professor was subjected to stone throwing by students; another was accused of being sympathetic to naxal movement and another lecturer who was transferred to Mysore University was also a controversial figure, and finally faced suspension in Mysore University on another controversy.
Just last year the students had sought judicial intervention following a stalemate of attendance shortage involving the same lecturer and now once again the students of MCJ have boycotted the classes and taken to the streets resorting to an indefinite dharna demanding transfer or suspension of lecturer of the MCJ Department M P Umeshchandra. The students are accusing him using abusive language in the class and discrimination on the basis of religion and caste. 38 out of the 43 students of MCJ, both junior and senior are participating in the indefinite dharna.
The matter has now snowballed into a huge controversy as the these students on dharna have been able to garner the support of the students of all the departments of the university who expressed their solidarity by boycotting the classes on 19th by staging a dharna in front of the offices of the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar. Though they withdrew their dharna following an assurance by the VC that the Syndicate would meet on 23rd to take stock of the situation, MCJ students say they are continuing their dharna until their demand for Umeshchandra’s removal is fulfilled. The outcome of the meeting of the Syndicate is now eagerly awaited by all, which is sure to give a new dimension to this imbroglio.
Controversies have dogged the MCJ department time and again sullying its image mainly due to spat between students and lecturers. Former students of the university, most of whom have joined various newspaper organizations do not have fond memories of their two years spent in the department, which speak volumes of the kind of atmosphere prevalent in the department. The dwindling strength of the students (25 seniors and 18 juniors) clearly manifests the declining credibility of the department.
The present controversy surrounds lecturer Umeshchandra, whom the students accuse of harassing them by abusing them and their parents and discriminating them on the basis of caste, race and religion. It is not the first time the students have revolted against Umeshchndra. They say ever since he joined the department in 2004 he has been an inseparable part of some controversy or the other involving students and last year it reached a deadlock when nine students brought a stay order from the High Court and answered the final examination when Umeshchandra refused them attendance. The students got a morale booster when the judgment came in their favour as seven of the 9 students were allowed to answer the examination vindicating their stand.
Crossing the Limits
The protesting students both boys and girls are determined to continue with their agitation until they feel they get justice. The entire senior batch except one and except 3 from junior batch all the students of MCJ are participating in the dharna. The department has introduced payment seats since 2005 and there are many students who have joined the department paying as much as 42,000/- fees. (Many of them say that the fees is much higher than the prevailing fee structure in some private colleges) Naturally they feel they are not getting the due from the department which is embroiled in pointless controversies. Agitating MCJ students speaking to daijiworld said lecturer Umeshachandra has crossed his limits of decency by badmouthing in the class. Varsha Nayak, a senior student said “he abused not only us but our parents and the entire generation. We have not come here to listen to his foul mouthing and discriminations. Why should we put up with his machinations?”
Ranjith K V, another agitating student also expresses similar sentiments. “Umeshchandra always has this knack of kick starting his lectures abusing upper caste people. He always asked us to raise our hands caste/religion wise. Brahmins were his favourite whipping boys of abuses. He openly used to say now it is our turn to teach lessons to upper caste people. We had a precedent how had harassed our seniors last year for raising their voice against him”.
The students say that Umeshachandra has been in an agitated mood ever since a report in a popular Kannada Daily accusing him of many misdeeds and he felt the involvement of students in giving out information to this paper. He wanted the students to give it in writing denying all the allegations against him as alleged in the paper which the students say they refused. Following this, the students say he has started harassing them by threatening to cut their attendance and refusing to evaluate their dissertation.
Students say it is not just the students but even the former Vice Chancellor of University Prof Kaverappa and Heads of MCJ department Prof Nagaraj (now retired) and present Chairman G P Shivaram have been facing atrocities cases filed against them by Umeshchandra. G P Shivaram agreed that he has been facing this case filed against him in 2007 by Umeshchandra. “I have pinpointed certain lapses on his part including tampering of attendance register, unauthorized absence and dereliction of duty (absence during exam duty) and as directed by the University I have asked explanation. He filed the case against me to cover up his misdeeds. Now I have got a B report against this case and it continues”, he pointed out.
Shivaram also said that Umeshchandra again failed to report for exam duty from 21st to 26th December and someone else had given the leave note to him. He was again on unauthorized leave from 15th to 19th January 2010. “As Chairman of the department I need to maintain certain discipline. Unauthorized leave and dereliction of duty is a major offence. Now that the students have taken to agitation boycotting the classes I am worried about their future and I hope an amicable solution is possible and the impasse is solved”.
Lecturer Umeshhchandra, however, has given a new twist to the whole controversy by absolving the students and blaming the administration. When contacted by daijiworld for his reaction he gave a clean chit to students saying “students are not the culprits. Acting Vice Chancellor K K Achary, former VC Kaverappa, Prof K V Nagaraj, Vishweshwar Bhat, Registrar Chinnappa Gowda and Prof G P Shivaram have collaborated to instigate the students against me. Whatever the students have accused me of is nothing but the conspiracy hatched by these people to malign me. Students on their own will never resort to strike unless supported by University authorities”.
When contacted, Prof Nagaraj who retired from the department in September last year and is now in Assmm termed the entire fiasco as a “leadership crisis”. “It is a problem basically concerning the university. I blame the whole system for this because if the problems were dealt with in the initial stages it would not have snowballed into such a big controversy. Umeshchandra’s problem is a problem of communication”, Nagaraj asserted.
It is indeed a paradox to accept it as a communication problem when the lecturer belongs to the department of communication. But Prof Nagarj did agree that during his tenure as Chairman, students of MCJ had to go to court to bring a stay and answer the examination. “I could not poke my nose when he failed to give attendance to students. Students went to High Court and got the judgment in their favour. When they came back the situation was dragging as the University did not take any action”.
One can term it as inaction or sheer inaptitude or inherent system failure. Former student of the department Balakrishna says “the students were undergoing some kind of turmoil within them for long. Sadly it has come out in the form of a Frankenstein Monster of caste and religion. The real cause of the present mess is something else and that needs to be addressed”.
The agitation has all signs of taking an ugly turn as it has now acquired caste and religious implications. But the agitating students are adamant that they want justice and caste/religion should not become an issue in the portals of education. With both the students and the lecturer in question, taking a belligerent stand with accusations and counter accusations, it remains to be seen what decision the Syndicate is going to come up with. But it cannot be denied that the department’s name is besmirched beyond repair.