FTII, Pune

Students firm on Chauhan’s removal

Print edition : September 04, 2015

On the 60th day of the students' strike, on August 11. Photo: PAUL NORONHA

P. Pathrabe, the FTII's new director. Photo: PAUL NORONHA

IT is more than two months since the students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune began their strike against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan, best known for his role as Yudishtir in the television megaserial Mahabharat, as chairman of the institute, and the impasse shows no signs of ending.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, under whose jurisdiction the FTII falls, appears to have dug its heels in and started using strong-arm tactics to get the students to return to class. “Students are always on the weaker side, but these tactics are unfair. The government is systematically destroying the real agenda, politicising it and sadly ruining an institute which encourages liberal thought and has produced great cinema,” said a former student.

Students of the institute began their protest on June 12 when the announcement was made that Gajendra Chauhan would be taking over as chairman. The students claimed that he did not have the academic credentials, vision and experience to head the FTII and alleged that his appointment had to do with his proximity to the party ruling at the Centre. The students also said the five committee members the government appointed to the institute’s Governing Council had strong ties with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

In spite of the protests, including by various student groups across the country, and the huge support from the alumni, the government has not yielded and all attempts at negotiating have failed. “They are instead using tyrannical tactics to stop the strike,” says Vikas Urs, a student representative.

A month into the strike, the students were told that they could face rustication if they did not return to academic activity. But they stood firm and are united in their protest, says Ranjit Nair, a spokesperson for the students. “On a daily basis the administration is doing everything it can to stop the strike.”

In early August, FTII director Prashant Pathrabe announced to the 2008 batch of 50-odd students, the senior most on campus, that their diploma films (a requirement for graduation), 13 in all, would be assessed on an “as is where is” basis. “It can’t be a matter of pride for any institute that students are spending so many years without completing their courses,” he added.

Students disrupted the assessment on the grounds that six of the 13 films were incomplete and that they had been given extensions by the Academic Council. They argued that it would be “ridiculous” to judge and grade students on the basis of films that were yet to be edited or were devoid of audio. The assessment was postponed after the disruption. Some of the faculty members said that they understood the students’ point of view but were helpless as “orders” were coming from “above”.

Pathrabe, who is the newly appointed director after D.J. Narain retired in July, made a conciliatory comment to the student body: he said the director’s role was much more hands-on than that of the chairman. Reacting to the comment, Ranjit Nair said the students had no problem with Pathrabe taking over as director, unlike their stiff opposition to the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan. “We are ready to hold a dialogue with the new director and place our grievances before him. But our strike will end only when the FTII society is put into a passive mode,” he said. He added that this was the principal demand of the students when they met Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley.

The institute has reportedly issued notices to some of the students from the 2008 batch for staying on in hostels in spite of completing their courses. Ranjit Nair said the students were camping in Delhi and were hopeful of the Ministry giving them a hearing.

The FTII student body has garnered support from other student bodies and is confident of achieving a breakthrough. “If they threaten us with rustication, then it is truly a sign of dark days to come,” Ranjit Nair said.

Anupama Katakam

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