In an attempt to clear the factual inaccuracies of media reports on the alleged assault of a photojournalist by an IITM professor, the T5E team met the Director, Dr. Bhaskar Ramamurthi, and Dean of Students, Prof. L S Ganesh, this afternoon. Statements were also taken from student council members present during the incident. This is what they had to say :
The premises of Sarayu Extension was crowded with mediapersons on 21st August 2012, following the death of a female student. After the body was shifted to the mortuary, all the reporters and policemen left. A young photographer from The New Indian Express stayed back and took photos in the vicinity of the premises. He then asked the Dean of Students (DoS) for permission to take some “live shots”. The DoS discouraged him on the grounds that people were in grief and should be left alone. At this point, it is pertinent to note that the Press Council of India norms for journalistic conduct state that “intrusion through photography into moments of personal grief shall be avoided”. However, he continued to take photos, mingling amongst the crowd and listening to the conversations of grieving students and wardens at close proximity. He was also taking photos of the grieving lady students from close quarters, to which they objected. Dr. Indumathi Nambi, Warden of Sarayu, requested him to delete all the objectionable photos that were taken. She suggested that he could take pictures with students facing away from the camera if it were absolutely essential. She also asked him to show the photos but he did not agree. The Warden then requested Praveen, Hostel Affairs Secretary (HAS), to make sure that the photos were deleted. The photographer did not comply with Praveen’s requests. He took a few more photos, before winding up to leave the place. At this point, Prof. M.P.Maiya, Chairman of the Council of Wardens (CCW), intervened, and stopped the photographer from inserting his camera into the bag. He held the camera in one hand, requesting the photographer to show the photos so that the objectionable ones may be deleted.
The photographer assaulted the Chairman by grabbing his collar and punching him a couple of times, some of which he dodged. The Chairman reacted in self-defense, leading to an unfortunate altercation. The HAS and Dr. Gunmadi (Warden, Jamuna) immediately rushed to separate the two, with the help of security guards. Nobody suffered any serious injuries in the process. The photographer was taken to the Security Section in the Administrative block by a security guard on his bike since he wished to lodge a complaint. He also made a few calls to some colleagues.
Members from the press arrived in campus to take up the issue of the alleged assault with the administration. After discussions, the issue was resolved and it was decided that the photos would be deleted. The mediapersons however demanded a statement from the IITM administration on the sequence of events. But by the time the Director sent his statement to various media bodies the next day, protests were already being staged by reporter unions, condemning the incident.
The Director, in his statement, said that “The Chairman regrets that he, a senior professor of the Institute, was driven to act in the above manner, in order to stand up for the dignity, privacy and security of the lady students. It is not clear even upon reflection what else could have been done by our faculty members and students to prevent the photographer from violating the privacy of our lady students and from taking away the photographs.”
“The press is portraying this incident as an attack on the media, which is definitely not the case. We have always enjoyed cordial relations with the media and wish to settle this dispute peacefully”, the Director said to the T5E team.