S.R. Nigam : A Pioneer Media Educator in the Himalayan Region

Professor (Dr.) Santosh Kumar Tewari*

Mr. Sita Ram Nigam (1933-2010) founded the Garhwal University Journalism Department in 1976. That was the first state university in Uttar Pradesh to have a department in the discipline. Mr. Nigam worked there for one year and all his students got jobs just after passing the course. He ran the department single handedly. Those days Garhwal University’s location, Srinagar (not of Jammu and Kashmir), was one of the remotest areas of the country.

SR Nigam
SR Nigam (right) with the author at Summer Hill Railway Station in Shimla in 1995

For the purpose of writing this piece, when I telephoned the current chairman of the Garhwal Department Professor A.R. Dangwal, he told me that Mr. Nigam had been his “guruji”1. The word “guruji” itself indicates his respect for Mr. Nigam. Professor Dangwal joined the department in 1979. Mr. Nigam was like a guru to me too, though I was never his formal student.

In fact, Garhwal University Journalism Department was the first in the discipline in the entire Himalayan range covering Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Nepal and parts of China.

Garhwal University was established in December 1973 and Mr. B.N. Bhatt was its first vice chancellor. In 1989 the university’s name was changed to Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University. In 2009 it became a central university. Mr. Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna was primarily from Garhwal and was Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh from 1973 to 1975. Mr. Nigam brought the students of his department from Garhwal to Lucknow and they all met Mr. Bahuguna. One of the students was Mr. Bhagwati Dobhal, who is now retired from the Hindustan Times group, New Delhi, after holding a senior editorial position in Kadambani, a monthly magazine of the group.

Second Department in the Himalayan Region: Himachal Pradesh University’s Journalism Department, established in 1987 in Shimla, was the second Journalism Department in the Himalayan region. During its early days the Department’s chairmen was Professors A.R. Khan of History Department, C.S. Panwar of English Department. When Mr. Vepa Rao joined the Department as Reader (Associate Professor) in 1990, he became its Chairman. I joined that Department as Reader (Associate Professor) in October 1994 and was its Chairman from November 1994 to June 1996. I left Shimla to join as Professor of Mass Communication in Assam University, Silchar in July 1996.

First and Second Departments in the North East: In Assam University, which is a central university, I was the founder head of Department of Mass Communication and founder Dean of School of Information Sciences. Assam University Department of Mass Communication was the second in this discipline in the North East India after Gauhati University, a state university. In Gauhati the journalism course was started by the Political Science Department. Until 1983 the university was conducting only a part-time diploma course in journalism. However, in 1984 a separate full-fledged Department of Journalism was established to offer postgraduate diploma course in Communication & Journalism.

S.R. Nigam left Garhwal: Mr. S.R. Nigam left Garhwal Department because he had some differences with the university administration. After his departure from Garhwal University, the next vice chancellor Mr. U.C. Ghildiyal wrote a letter dated 29 March 1979 to National Union of Journalist vice president Mr. S.P. Nigam that he felt ashamed that a man like S.R. Nigam was treated badly by his university. 2 In fact, administration in most of the universities in the government sector is heartless and full of red tapism.

Mr. S.R. Nigam and Mr. S.P. Nigam were good friends. I had the honour and privilege to know both of them closely. Mr. S.P. Nigam gave the above stated letter to me. From Garhwal Mr. S.R. Nigam came to Delhi as a jobless person, and soon got a job on the Hindustan Times, New Delhi.

S.R. Nigam: a veteran journalist: Mr. Nigam was a veteran journalist. Before joining academics and the Hindustan Times, New Delhi, he worked on several newspapers and news agencies including Nagapur  Times (Nagpur), Tribune (Ambala), UNI (Bhopal), National Herald (Lucknow), Patriot (New Delhi) and Motherland  (New Delhi), etc. He also worked on some English language magazines. In 1965, as a reporter he covered India Pakistan war from Amritsar.

Mr. Nigam was M.A., LL.B. from Lucknow University and obtained a Diploma in Journalism from Nagpur. He did his diploma course in 1960 after resigning from his central government job of Post Master General office. Those days Dr. Roland E. Wolseley was in Nagpur as a Fulbright Professor. Dr. K.E. Eapen, one of the pioneers of journalism education in India, was also Mr. Nigam’s teacher. I knew both Dr. Eapen and Mr. Nigam. Both had good memories of each other. Dr. Eapen passed away on 23 October 2010 in Banglore.3 Dr. Eapen was 87. Mr. Nigam was a life member of Indian Science Congress. While in Delhi he was active in Indian Federation of Working Journalists (IFWJ) and also in Forum of Financial Writers. He took early retirement from the Hindustan Times, New Delhi, at the age of 55 years and since then he was settled in Lucknow.

I knew Mr. Nigam for the last three decades. When I met him first, he was working in the Hindustan Times, New Delhi. He had fond memories of working with a number of renowned journalists of his era, including B.G. Verghese, Khushwant Singh, H.K. Dua, M. Chalapati Rau, K.R. Malkani, etc.

He was highly impressed by the simplicity of B.G. Verghese. He told me when Khushwant Singh was HT editor; he announced that he would give five rupees to anyone who would provide him a good anecdote or gossip which could be used in his weekly column “With Malice towards One and All”. Mr. Nigam gifted many good books on journalism and communication to me, and one of them bears signature of American Professor Wilbur Schramm, who is popularly known as father of communication studies in the world.

For the last 18 years Mr. Nigam was living an almost secluded life in Lucknow. He was not having any landline or mobile phone. I used to keep regular touch with him. He never held any high post or position in his life, but he was a man of high ideals. He was not an ambitious man and always shied away from publicity. One thing I always noticed that he never misused his position as a journalist. Moreover, he usually never talked about himself. The other most noteworthy fact was that though he considered himself of poor class, he was not at all afflicted by envy or by the feeling of inferiority. Moreover, he had the habitual courage of inviting poverty for the sake of his ideals.

I am a witness to many occasions when Mr. Nigam financially helped his poor and needy relatives and neighbours, though he himself was a poor man. He relinquished his claim on his ancestral property in favour of his deceased brother’s family since their financial condition was not good. Mr. Nigam was not getting any pension. He had no other source of income except the earning from his fixed deposits. Towards the end of his life that earning was about Rs.3,500/- per month. In my view the amount was insufficient even for his proper medical care, which he badly needed. He was diabetic, had blood pressure problem and other related diseases.

During his life time he used to regularly donate some small amount to Ramakrishna Mission, Lucknow. About 17 years before his death, he bequeathed his small house at Lucknow to that organisation. I was also a signatory to his will as a witness. The other witness was his trusted friend Mr. Karamat.4 Once or twice, I helped Mr. Nigam financially. In fact, I should have been of greater help to him.  In his death I lost my friend and philosopher. He was one of the few persons; I met in my life, which did not have any difference in their words and deeds.

Mr. Nigam was more secular than many others. In Lucknow, a Muslim gentleman, Rashid, more aged than him, was shunted away from his home. He had no money with him. Mr. Nigam not only provided him shelter in his house, but also food and other necessities of daily life for four five years. Mr. Nigam always treated him as a friend. The reason why they lived together for such a long time was that they were habitual of living a very simple and austere life and they shared common interests in philosophy and Urdu poetry. Then one day that Muslim gentleman’s family members came and requested him to return home. He could not resist their persistence after three four months. Mr. Nigam’s quality of helping the poor and needy, irrespective of caste and creed, is becoming rare these days.

Mr. Sita Ram Nigam passed away on 15 September 2010 at Lucknow. He was 77. He was not keeping well for the last four five months. Mr. Nigam was a bachelor. He was living alone in his house situated in Azad Nagar on the out skirts of Lucknow near Hardoi road. His body was found in his bed when one of his neighbours went to him   to serve his morning tea.

On his death Professor M.R. Dua, formerly of Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, wrote to me: “He was a great soul and had high ideals as human being, as a journalist and as a social worker”.5

Vivekananda said, “If you really want to judge the character of a man, look not at his great performances. Every fool may become a hero at one time or another. Watch a man do his most common action; those are indeed the things which will tell you the real character of a great man. . . . The greatest men in the world have passed away unknown. The Buddhas and Christs that we know, are but second-rate heroes in comparison with the greatest men of whom the world knows nothing. Hundreds of these unknown heroes have lived in every country working silently. Silently they live and silently they pass away. . . . In the life of Gautam Buddha we notice him constantly saying that he is the twenty-fifth Buddha. The twenty four before him are unknown to history although the Buddha known to history must have built upon the foundations laid by them.” 6

In my view, Mr. Nigam was one of those unknown heroes. His life, particularly post retirement one, was like a pilgrimage. It was a life of renunciation rather than accumulation. He was an interesting, benevolent, unknown, unusual, unassuming man without means but with high ideals which he practiced silently without publicity.

Reference

  1. Telephonic conversation with Professor A.R.Dangwal on 31 January 2015
  2. U.C. Ghildiyal letter dated 29 March 1979 to S.P. Nigam
  3. Some Reflections on K.E. Eapen ‘Communication Today’, Jaipur, October-December 2010, Vol. 12, No. 4
  4. S.R. Nigam’s Will (The original copy is in the possession of Ramakrishna Mission, Lucknow)
  5. Quoted in S.R. Nigam: A Tribute,’Communication Today’, Jaipur, July-September 2010, Vol. 12, No. 3
  6. Rolland, Romain (September 2006,23rd Impression)’ The Life of Vivekananda and the Universal Gospel'(English translation from French) Kolkata: Advait Ashram, pp.167-168.

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