'Demo days' are pretty common in most colleges in Kerala, where final year students choose to dress funnily or follow an odd theme on the college’s annual day. Students of the CH Mohammed Koya College for Advanced Study in Varkala didn’t go to any extremes when they chose a dress code for their annual day in March this year. They decided that they will all wear black – a decision that has come back to trouble them 9 months later, after Janam TV did a report about it, calling them terrorists.
The video report shows the students wearing black come in jeeps and bikes to their college, with a reporter saying it showed the presence of terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS in the campus in Varkala in Thiruvananthapuram district. “Al Qaeda is spreading to the capital city. It’s tightening its hold over campuses in Kerala,” the TV anchor says, and all the while white flags the students were waving during celebration were circled on TV.
These flags, according to Janam TV, was Al Qaeda’s flags. But the college administartion, current and former students disagree. Sharan Suresh, who was a final year BCA student of the college at the time, says. "We were carrying flags representing the different departments of the college, like BCA has one, TTM has another. Wearing black was just part of the celebrations on our annual days, just like most colleges do, following some kind of a dress code."
The Janam TV report also shows visuals of paintings on toilet walls, claiming that too displayed terrorist presence. One of the drawings on the bathroom was that of Osama Bin Laden. The channel has connected this drawing to the black clothes on annual day and linked everything to terrorism.
The college for advanced studies was founded in 1995 and offers BCA, MCA, MBA and other courses. It is one of the institutions managed by the Muslim Education Trust for Coastal Area (METCA). Advocate Shaheer, METCA's general secretary, says that the college has produced many toppers in the past and has a good reputation, which Janam TV seemed keen to destroy for some reason. “I don’t understand what the provocation is for them to have done such a report on the annual day that happened on March 14, 2018,” he tells TNM.
“These are teenagers. Of course, they would draw, scribble on the walls much like they would in any other unsupervised place. And we obviously can’t put a CCTV in the toilets. We have insisted on fining students who vandalise,” Shaheer says.
Ayiroor Police SI Sajeev who went to the college on Saturday, on account of the Janam TV report, says that they inspected the toilets and found nothing suspicious. "They were drawings of the danger symbol and of pirates. Nothing suspicious there. The visuals given by Janam TV are from a celebration held at the college on March 14, 2018 when actor Salim Kumar made a visit. It is an old incident." The IB too had come for investigations, he says.
Sharan, who has now finished his course, says there could have been problematic drawings in the toilet, but it is just ignorance of some students.
With Janam TV’s report going viral, actor Salim Kumar, who was the chief guest at the annual day programme, came out saying it was just a colour theme they followed, asking how it could show terrorist presence. Salim tells TNM, “It was 10 months ago. They had called to tell me about following the black theme for the annual day and asked me to wear black too. I asked them why black and they said, because if they chose any other colour, it would have many different shades, be it red or blue or yellow. There wouldn’t be uniformity. But there was only one black. That struck me as logical and I too wore black. And I am not a terrorist,” reminding you of the Shah Rukh Khan movie My Name is Khan, where the protagonist tries to prove that he was not a terrorist just because his last name was Khan.
Salim Kumar says that if wearing black meant one is a terrorist, then all those who wear white should be corpses, since dead bodies are covered in white. “These students did not come from elsewhere. They are born and raised in Kerala. They are Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Because it is a Muslim management, should not they have any celebrations?” he asks.
“Many of the students are Salim Kumar fans and wanted to invite him to the college for the annual day. They – girls and boys – wore black and asked Salim Kumar also to follow the colour theme. They went to a junction near the college to greet the actor and bring him to the campus. That’s the video you see in the channel’s report,” Shaheer explains.
Shaheer points out that more than 75% of the faculty is from other communities (non-Muslim) and more than 50% of the students too are non-Muslim. “I say this because there might be speculations about a Muslim trust. But we have been very secular in our appointments. Our principal is Janardhanan Pillai. In the college we celebrate only Onam and Christmas, none of the Islamic festivals. We do charity for poor, old mothers around the college, giving them kits. We sponsor education for poor students,” he says.
The report has upset current students and old students too, Shaheer says. “We have been getting calls from our old students who all pledged their support to the college. In fact, on the annual day, the students who stood in the front row to greet the actor have all been from other communities.”
Shaheer says they had received no calls from Janam TV before the report was telecast. “We are planning to move legally against this baseless report,” he adds.
Janam TV defends story
In a statement, Janan TV has defended their story and said that the mainstream media and a large section of Kerala had mocked the channel two years ago when they had first reported on youngsters from Kerala leaving the country to join Islamic State. The channel has alleged that there was ample evidence to show that many youngsters in the college were influenced by terrorist elements and that it was their editorial right to report it.