The UNESCO Chair in Vulnerability Studies was inaugurated on 7 November 2022 at the Department of English, where the Chair is hosted. The Inaugural took the form of a lecture, ‘Community Media and Building Resilient Communities: Addressing Multiple Vulnerabilities’ by Professor Vinod Pavarala, the UNESCO Chair on Community Media, Department of Communication. The audience consisted of faculty from Physics, Sanskrit, Hindi, Management, Life Sciences, Humanities, Political Science, Regional Studies, Communication, Engineering, administrative officers and Library staff, students and research scholars from many disciplines.
Professor Anna Kurian, Head of the Department, formally started the proceedings by welcoming the dignitaries, officers, faculty, students and colleagues. She outlined the importance of the Chair being awarded to English.
The Chairholder, Professor Pramod K. Nayar began by thanking various people: Professor BJ Rao, Vice Chancellor, who inked the agreement in September 2022; Dr. Devesh Nigam who processed the paperwork; Director IoE, Professor Ghanashyam Krishna; Director R&D, Professor Samrat Sabat; Finance Officer, Dr. Lokanandha Reddy; IAO Mr. Sri Krishna; Dean of Humanities, Professor V Krishna; Offices of the Vice Chancellor (Mrs. Rupa, Mr Krishna Ram), Registrar (Mr Vijay), Dean (Mr. Suryanarayana, Mr. Suresh, Mr. Srinivas, Mr. Pavan), Deputy Registrar E1, Mr. Sai Jawahar and his office. For advice and encouragement, he thanked Professor Vasuki Belavadi and Professor Kanchan Malik, Faculty Fellows, UNESCO Chair on Community Media, Department of Communication. He also listed those from outside UoH responsible for realising the Chair: UNESCO Delhi, JP Ramirez-Miranda and Sarita Jadhav; Office of the Director General, UNESCO Paris, which understood the crisis created by the pandemic and allowed us extra time for submission; the National Commission for Cooperation with the UN, Ministry of Education GoI, VK Siljo IAS and DK Samantaray IAS. Professor Nayar thanked Professor Bhushan Patwardhan, former Vice Chairman UGC, who first suggested that we should apply for the Chair. For the application itself, he thanked Professor Appa Rao Podile, then Vice Chancellor and Anna Kurian. He highlighted Professor Pavarala’s mentoring and advice since the Chair was awarded. Professor Nayar also announced the UNESCO Chair team: Faculty Fellows attached to the Chair, Dr. Sheela Suryanarayanan, Dr. Zahidul Haque and Professor Anna Kurian. He then outlined the remit of the Chair: research and teaching, collaborations and network-building. The Chair has to secure extensive research and teaching collaborations with international institutions, develop courses/programs, and produce high-quality research. He informed the audience that a large team of 15 highly productive academics from literary studies to the law and geography, had promised support – indeed their letters were a part of the application.
The Vice Chancellor, Professor B.J. Rao warmly congratulated both the existing and the newly appointed UNESCO Chairs, and said he looked forward to seeing excellent work from them.
Dr. Devesh Nigam, Registrar, recorded that Professor Nayar had already brought several laurels to the University and this Chair was one more.
Professor V. Krishna, Dean of Humanities congratulated the new Chair. Professor Vinod Pavarala stated that it is a matter of great joy that two prestigious UNESCO Chairs have been awarded to the same institution. He informed the gathering about the work of the Chair on Community Media, creating a distinct ecosystem for policy formulation on the ground level; extending the project to 15 countries and ensuring a steady number of publications in its wake.
Professor Nayar ended the first session with a vote of thanks.
Meenakshi Srihari, Research Assistant to the IWE Online Project, Department of English, formally introduced and invited Professor Vinod Pavarala to deliver his talk.
Professor Pavarala began his lecture by narrating the stories of four pioneers of community media from around the world with whom their Chair had worked. He placed these individual stories in the context of ‘media globalisation’. This enables the homogenisation of media at the hands of a select few. To resist this oligopolistic control, we need a robust community media, which focuses on marginalised and dispossessed groups at the grassroots level. During the migrant crisis in the pandemic, a large number of dispossessed people were excluded from the ongoing media narrative, a condition of ‘voice poverty’ which is a distinct and pernicious form of vulnerability. Professor Pavarala emphasized the role of community radio stations as a possible solution to enable the voice of vulnerable populations. Using a range of examples from linguistic and climate change vulnerable populations, he argued that enabling and egalitarian infrastructures can be made with the help of individual and institutional support. The lecture ended with an invigorating question and answer session.
Dr. Saradindu Bhattacharya, English, offered the vote of thanks.
Text by Sourav Jatua, PhD candidate, Department of English & photographs by Noah Simon, PhD candidate, Department of English and Mr. Ashish Jacob Thomas, PRO