FTII row: Students who went on strike denied scholarships, complain of hostile environment

On 26 January, 2017 students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) were all set to celebrate Republic day. Like every year, they were looking forward to watching the flag hoisting followed by a march-past and a screening of a patriotic movie like Gandhi or Sarfarosh. Instead, they were greeting at the entrance by a statue of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and a life-size replica of Andaman’s Cellular Jail, showing punishment meted out to prisoners lodged in the jail pre-Independence.

The replica at FTII.

The replica at the FTII entrance.

Students say the atmosphere on campus turned noxious after they went on strike in June 2015 to protest the appointment of TV actor turned politician and BJP member Gajendra Chauhan.

The appointment of Chauhan, students say, was what triggered the strike, however students had already been protesting the lack of clarity in their syllabus, which was delaying the completion of their studies.

The strike last 139 days before being called off in October 2015. But students, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say a year-and-a-half later, the administration is acting as if they have a vendetta against them.

When the students enquired as to whom came up with the life-sized replica of the jail and the statue of Savarkar, they received no answers. "We have no problem with Savarkar or the administration expressing their opinion. But we have a system in place. Students come up with ideas — the best ones are approved — the administration says this project was executed by the students of the art department. But none of the art students are willing to speak of this. Clearly, this was a political statement by the administration," said a student who had participated in the strike.

Although the top students are offered scholarships and an opportunity to participate in foreign exchange programmes every year, this time things are different —the administration has denied both to students involved in the protests and have "displinary action" pending against them. "They refused to give us a valid reason. We only discovered the reason after we came across comments made in our personal files," said one student, who had previously qualified for the foreign exchange programme. "It's not just limited to government scholarships. We aren't even allowed to apply for private scholarships. The students who have topped the last two years are suffering."

Rahul Solapurkar, an actor and member of the FTII society, justified the administration's decision by citing the example of students who refused to attend classes during the strike. He said, "Scholarships are meant for those interested in studies. Why should we pay for those who aren't even interested in attending classes? We will consider their case if they submit a written apology."

The alumni are suffering too. Ajayan Adat, a student of the 2008 batch that went on strike, completed his diploma film and, after consulting with his batchmates, submitted it to the International Film Festival Rotterdam. But then the FTII management sent the festival organisers a letter stating that they were the film's producers and warned them against screening the film without their permission. “We had to persuade the administration. Renowned filmmakers had to intervene. The film was then resubmitted as an official entry by the FTII," Adat said. "After the film won the best movie award, the administration began issuing press releases taking credit for the movie," he added wryly.

Security on campus has been greatly increased.

Security on campus has been greatly increased.

A year-and-a-half after Gajendra Chauhan's appointment as FTII chief, a proposal to turn the institute into a Digital Media University which allowed short-term courses to be conducted was approved by the governing council. The proposal is now awaiting government approval. Students say they had opposed this move and even voted against it during the meeting, but their opinions were disregarded. "They didn't even consider our protests. The council members simply bulldozed over our opinions," said a student who was part of the meeting.

The governing council has now passed a resolution banning the students from these meetings. Solarpurkar said, “Students do not have a registered union. It was the previous academic council that considered their case and allowed them to be a part of the meetings. What is the point of inviting them? They are represented in the council by their heads of department and almuni."

The campus has a new, foreboding look — there are lots of new security personnel around, along with armed guards in camouflage — and new restrictions. "Now, if we want to enter the girls' hostel we have to sign a register. Our presence will be monitored. This was never the case earlier," a student said. "We have nothing against security. But the presence of guards in such large numbers has a chilling impact," he added.

"This is a political fight. It was a political stance. Fair enough. Political fights happen all over the country. But if we are a democracy, why are we being persecuted?" a student asked. This question is in the hearts and minds of FTII students across the campus.

Updated Date: Feb 04, 2017 10:24 AM

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