Thursday, March 31, 2011

Genesis of Media Research Centre @ JNU

An interview with Prof. Deepak Kumar

Chairperson, Media Research Centre

School of Social Sciences

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India & Professor Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies, JNU, India

Lakshmi: When did your association with JNU begin?

Prof. Kumar: Well I've been teaching here for the past twelve years but I knew the place from '75 onwards so I think 70 onwards when it was formed, I was studying at Patna University at that time. And of course Delhi was far off and a new institution being established. I wouldn't leave my university – Patna University - for a new experiment but I knew that this experiment was going to be successful. We used to discuss in Patna the relevance of a new Central University coming up and bringing very fine scholars from different parts of the country to JNU so we knew that this will be an important educational experiment and in '75 when I came to Delhi looking for a job then JNU was an obvious place to visit. I stayed in one of your hostels – I don't remember if I was a legal guest or an illegal guest – but this was part of the fun to be in JNU. And I immediately got a job at Kurukshetra University to teach History. I remember as a teacher at Kurukshetra University I looked to the curriculum at JNU as a model. We tried to introduce changes in our respective curriculums based on JNU, and of course its spiritual views, discussions, the quality of debate, especially in the '70s has been legendary. I think it influenced the whole generation, so in that sense I've been a beneficiary of JNU. And I joined JNU late in life but as I said JNU as an educational experiment did influence most of us.

Wafa: How different was the teaching experience at JNU from your time at Kurukshetra University?

Prof. Kumar: JNU is mini-India, so that is our plus point. Unlike other universities, we go the students' doorstep to conduct our exams and get them. So that makes the real, real difference. To teach in JNU is also challenging in the sense that we get students from all strata of the society, different backgrounds, and it makes teaching more interesting, varied and to a large extent exciting.

Wafa: You're instrumental in setting up the new Centre for Media Research in the School of Social Sciences. Can you tell us more about it? What are the basic aims you have in mind at this stage?

Prof. Kumar: A couple of months ago, I heard about 3 centres being established in the university thanks to the UGC committee that has visited us, and in its wisdom sanctioned these centres. Media has always been significant from the point of view of Indian democracy, Indian civil society and to a large extent our culture. I'm sure other centres in the School of Social Sciences, in the School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies must have promoted studies related to media – at the MPhil dissertation level, at the PhD level, etc. In the country, we have institutions devoted to media studies which cater to editing qualities, reporting, and several other aspects of journalism; we have IIMC on our own campus. However, a need was felt where media should be subjected to rigorous research through interdisciplinary perspectives. The Centre for Media Research would try to serve this need. When it will be different from media studies, we would be basically focussed on MPhil and PhD work which would scrutinise the significance of, relevance of, evolution of media in our country from a comparative perspective of different social science disciplines. A historian, a sociologist, a media expert, a political scientist or law scholar interested in the role of media would require them to look at media from these perspectives. I want to begin on a humble note. I want the centre to become a centre of excellence on this important theme – gradually, slowly. We may like to begin the courses, advertise the courses in 2012 but before that a lot of homework has to be done. We have to think of the curriculum which has to be different, has to be new according to JNU's tradition, and I'm thinking to organise a brainstorming meeting sometime in December or early next year of the scholars interested in media research in different parts of the country to tell us what the gaps are, where we can provide an incisive analytical view and how would we formulate the curriculum, where do we get the faculty from - all this has to be thought out and I think in a year's time we should be able to organise a national level seminar and see that the course curriculum etc are put on a sound footing before we advertise its beginning in February 2012. There are several dimensions which we need to keep in mind – I've prepared a small vision document where we have tried to locate the niche areas – for example media and civil society, Indian economy, culture, science, environment consciousness. Fortunately I am not obsessed with political dimensions which occupy a lot of media attention. There's a lot of politics in our media, whether electronic or otherwise. But I'd like to diversify, personally, it depends on the faculty which comes in and their interest but personally I'd like a less political emphasis on our curriculum and see that the marginal sections of the society- women, sports, science and technology, our folk culture and dimensions which have not so far been adequately probed are reflected in the curriculum and the dissertation which our students work on.

I'm sure the Centre will have a bright future. I'm already getting almost every week a couple of letters and queries, telephone calls about the centre and about the plans for it. So I'm sure that when the centre is properly set up, the faculty will be enthused with the response which we are likely to get. My hunch is that we are going to be one of the most popular centres, and I also hope that we would cater to an important social need and requirement. Media has become enormously influential in our country and elsewhere as well. It has entered our bedroom, entered our study, it's everywhere and there are many things which can be said as its strong point but there are many others which should and could have been avoided, and media needs some kind of introspection which our centre would aim at providing.

Lakshmi: Since it's a very inter-disciplinary approach that you're going to take, will you be collaborating with a lot of other Centres?

Prof. Kumar: Of course, of course, we look forward to collaboration not only within JNU but even outside. Recently I visited Chennai and had the opportunity to meet the faculty at the Asian College of Journalism and they were very enthused. I met the director Mr Sasi Kumar, Aravind Sivaramakrishnan, Dr Nagarajan, the faculty, and they were so happy and we discussed quite a bit. So definitely the centre would be a collaborative effort, not only within JNU the different centres we seek to collaborate with and seek the help of in terms of not only formulating curriculum but also as guest lecturers, to help run the courses, organise meetings, seminars etc. You know, a centre would become vibrant only if it's very open. I look forward to all the centres contributing.

We have a vision statement, but I want to emphasise on that we're beginning on a very humble note, not great promises. Once it starts moving, once the Centre is on the right track, then only we would think of saying we've developed a vision again. It's a vision that keeps evolving and growing. And with the help of the colleagues who agree to serve with us and other colleagues who are in the JNU community, and the whole JNU community- not just from one centre or school, the faculty and students as a whole, because I know that media affects the lives of all of us and they would be interested.

Lakshmi: What message would you have to the JNU community?

Prof. Kumar: I would seek their wholehearted support. As I said, media is all around us, media serves a great educational purpose as well as serves our social and other requirements – social, political, democratic requirements. The JNU community is an intellectually conscious, politically vibrant community which has contributed to media; many of our students are in media these days. I expect that they would give us their feedback, contribute to us in terms of curriculum framing, in terms of new ideas- what the centre should be, what ought to be done, frames of reference, in future seminar themes and of course, their participation.

Interviewed by: Wafa Hamid and Lakshmi Menon, Research Scholars, Centre for English Studies, SLLCS, JNU

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