FTII in sexism row as student claims she was targeted by institute's director for flagging cases of sexual harassment

The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) has found itself at the receiving end of sexism allegations, amid the ongoing #MeToo movement.

A female student of FTII has alleged that she has been unfairly penalised for a coursework-related infraction, and targeted by the institute’s director Bhupendra Kainthola. She claims this is a punitive measure for having previously flagged two instances of sexual harassment, naming a former faculty member and a male student.

The woman, who we’re identifying as P for the purpose of this news report, has accused Kainthola of "obstructing work and creating a hostile environment" at FTII, making it impossible for her to continue on campus.

The row came to light when a letter was circulated on social media and messaging groups by a collective that calls itself ‘Women Against Sexual Harassment’ (WASH).

The collective, which said it was issuing the statement after obtaining permission from P, claimed in its letter: “Bhupendra Kainthola, the director of FTII, has been targeting the survivor student for having spoken up against sexual harassment. P has submitted a complaint to the internal committee against the director.”

Calling the harassment she reportedly experienced a “direct attack on P’s career”, the WASH letter further states: “Ever since she stood with women complainants who made complaints of sexual harassment against Nilanjan Dutta [external faculty of editing at FTII, who was among the names mentioned in the List of Sexual Harassers in Academia compiled by Raya Sarkar] and later filed a case of sexual harassment against her classmate, she is being hunted... (Kainthola and others) have, on paper and through academic orders, succeeded in ending a young filmmaker's career.”

The letter included a link to P’s complaint filed before the IC [read it here], adding WASH hoped to set an example for workplaces and educational institutions in India on how not to be “hubs of toxic masculinity and rape culture”.

Film and Television Institute of India. File image.

Film and Television Institute of India. File photo.

Referring to the incident for which she had been penalised, P says that while working on her first film — part of the dialogue exercise mandated by the FTII coursework — she had an issue with the teammate from the Sound Department who was assigned to work with her on sound recording and design. At the end of a 14-day shift, P says this colleague abandoned the project, because of which she had to ask a friend for help. At the time of her final assessment, P says she shared the file that had the changes made by her friend as it was the only version she had. Meanwhile, the colleague — who P says hadn’t even submitted the final sound file to the sound department as he was required to — took issue with this. “Before the assessment, six faculty members resolved the issue and told my colleague to give me the final sound,” she says. Her assessment was on the basis of this version submitted by her colleague.

A second committee, formed post-assessment, resolved the issue and cleared P of any wrongdoing, she says. A month later, a third enquiry was set up; it decreed "strict disciplinary action (against P), in the form of non-granting of any kind of scholarships, non-participation in any kind of students’ exchange programme and non-participation of her dialogue film or further exercises and projects in any film festival till the end of her academic tenure at FTII". Firstpost has verified a copy of this order with the director of FTII.

P and her allies at WASH point out that while she was penalised for her “unsuccessful attempt to replace dialogue film sound with unauthorised sound work”, the batchmate she had named in her earlier sexual harassment plaint was only barred from staying in the hostel for three months and sent for sessions with a psychologist — after being found guilty by a committee.

P and many of FTII’s female students say this disparity in action taken is merely one sign of the institutionalised sexism, normalised on campus over the years.

"A lot has been said about FTII being a misogynistic space, and that is undoubtedly true. The sexism here is casual, and everyday. People don’t even know what constitutes harassment. Some men shrug off their behaviour as ‘not harassment, but friendship’,” a female FTII student told Firstpost, on condition of anonymity.

Incidentally, a similar explanation formed the crux of the letter sent to the Internal Committee by the batchmate who P accused of sexual harassment. "My tone towards her was never that of a harasser. A friend in conversation with another uses a tone of closeness, and I have not crossed that boundary. It also was not mentioned to me that she is thinking of this as a harassment. I feel I am blinded by this accusation," his letter — a copy of which Firstpost accessed — read. P’s batchmate told Firstpost he had nothing further to add beyond what he’d already said in his letter.

Assistant professor for Video Editing, and chairperson of FTII’s IC Suchitra Sathe said the committee functioned as per the legal mandate prescribed in The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. “We have been organising sensitisation workshops for all faculty, staff and students at FTII. The IC is acting in an independent and timely manner to address complaints of sexual harassment. As all IC cases are confidential we cannot disclose case-based information," she told Firstpost, when asked for what action had been taken against P’s harasser.

Quite apart from anecdotal observations, the numbers indicate a lopsided sex ratio among FTII students. A May 2018 report by The Times of India noted that of the 150 students enrolled in the 2017 batch at FTII, only 30 were women.

P thinks the skewed gender ratio does have something to do with the negative experiences of female students on campus. P’s Direction and Screenplay Writing class had two female students (including herself) from among a batch of 10.

Meanwhile, FTII director Bhupendra Kainthola denied any connection between the action taken against P for her coursework-related issue, and her sexual harassment plaint against her batchmate.

"It is unfortunate that P has released a statement unnecessarily dragging the name of the FTT IC into a purely academic matter involving her, where action was taken by FTII administration after she was found guilty of professional misconduct by an inquiry committee. The one-sided statement is highly misleading and entirely at variance with the facts," Kainthola told Firstpost.

"Any complaint of sexual harassment from a teacher, staff or student is treated with the seriousness it rightfully deserves. All complaints are turned over to IC without delay. Once the IC submits its report FTII takes action entirely in accordance with the recommendations in the report," Kainthola added.

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Network 18, of which Firstpost is a part, has received complaints of sexual harassment as well. The complaints which are within the purview of the workplace have been forwarded to our PoSH committee for appropriate action.


Updated Date: Oct 24, 2018 15:24 PM

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