More than two hundred students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) held a silent protest against the assault of four students by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) last week. The students were assaulted by ABVP activists for hosting the cultural group Kabir Kala Manch, who, according to them, had links with Maoists.
After rejecting the students’ requests to hold a march, and repeatedly threatening them that they would be arrested if they went ahead with it, the Pune police finally gave in to their demand.
The march, held from the FTII to the Omkareshwar Bridge, where rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar was shot dead last week, was a message to “fascist forces” responsible for repeated attacks on freedom of expression, the students stated. They were also joined by other students of the city.
In their demand of their right to protest, the students found allies in the Pune Corporation Workers’ Union which strongly stated that the students should be allowed to express their dissent.
It was after hours of deliberations that the Union President Mukta Manohar finally convinced Pune police commissioner Gulabrao Pol to allow the march. “It would have been a blow to democracy if the students were not allowed to stand up for their rights. Such perseverance is what Dr Dabholkar fought for,” Ms Manohar said.
The police though, could not give a credible explanation for rejecting the students’ demand to hold the rally. “The police machinery is busy investigating Dr Dabholkar’s murder. We cannot provide protection against anti-social forces who may attack the protestors,” DCP Makarand Ranade had said. At the FTII campus, the police had a heavy bandobast and kept two buses ready to arrest the students if they stepped out of the campus. However, after the students’ readiness to court arrest, and also after repeated requests from Ms Manohar, the police finally relented.
Speaking at the end of the march, FTII student Kislay Tewari said, “The collective conscience of the nation has accepted that extremist groups will continue to drown voices. We are here to prove that we will not let that happen.”