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FTII students protest I&B Minister Anurag Thakur’s visit

FTII campus, Pune. File

FTII campus, Pune. File | Photo Credit: Mandar Tannu

The students’ association of the Pune-based Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), the country’s premier film school, staged a demonstration against Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Minister Anurag Thakur, opposing his “political ideology and past actions” during the latter’s visit to the FTII campus Thursday.

The association, which has alleged that students were being surveilled and their representation in the FTII Academic Council revoked, further accused the I&B Ministry authorities of threatening to cut-off funds for the institute in retaliation for the demonstration against Mr. Thakur.

Alleging that Mr. Thakur had “openly instigated communal riots after a hate speech in the capital New Delhi”, a statement by the FTII Student Association read: “The impact of Mr. Anurag Thakur’s beliefs and proclamations of the recent past are nothing short of venomous and absolutely despicable. As if his words themselves weren’t vile and full of communal hatred, the impact they have had on vulnerable communities in our country is painfully visible for all to see. Our student community wholeheartedly condemns this vicious attack on our basic values.”

The statement alluded to Mr. Thakur’s provocative statements (“shoot the traitors”) made before a crowd before the Delhi riots in January 2020.

The students’ body further accused the Union Minister of having caused “long-lasting fear” amongst student communities across India.

“The effect his [January 2020] speech has had on Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Milia Islamia University will not be forgotten by those living here in Pune, in FTII. Our campus has always upheld secular, democratic values, where there is no space for communal divisions or hatred along any lines. As such, we struggle to find the means to accommodate Mr. Thakur and his beliefs here [in the FTII],” said the students’ association, making clear their protest against his appointment at I&B Minister.

The students, who said they had staged a peaceful demonstration to protest Mr. Thakur’s visit to the campus, were seen holding placards advocating communal harmony.

Asserting that student rights had been under threat for a while now, the association complained that their representation in the Academic Council had been revoked, and that they lacked space for any dialogue with the authorities or a platform for making their concerns heard.

They accused the I&B Ministry (under whose purview the FTII falls) of running the institute as “a private organization”.

“In spite of the subsidy from the government and the large amounts of income garnered from the many short courses introduced recently, the FTII administration increases the fees of incoming batches by 5% every year, thus making it impossible for many sections of the populations to attempt the entrance exam with the exorbitant fees attached to it,” said the statement.

The student body also charged that the office of Proctor, and security personnel on campus, were being given “undue power”.

“Any voice raised for our rights and beliefs are taken to be an offence against the administration’s ideology and invite severe punishments that take back our scholarships with no room for redressal. Additionally, surveillance on students and their guests is increasing day by day, making us more vulnerable and threatened,” claimed the association.

Student representatives, who did manage to place before Mr. Thakur their grievances, alleged the Minister refused to comment or make any conclusive statement on their problems.

While strikes and protests have been part and parcel of the FTII since its inception in 1961, the ‘strike-culture’, already in vogue from the mid-1970s, grew particularly acute in the 1990s, when students incessantly squabbled over the academic and administrative facets of the FTII.

However, since the ascendancy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre, the students’ ire has been directed at a number of questionable appointments to the FTII Society and the alleged meddling of the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP in choosing candidates for the FTII panel.

The most notable instance was in 2015, when the functioning of the institute was paralysed for four eventful months with the students fiercely agitating against the I&B Ministry’s contentious appointment of Gajendra Chauhan — a little-known TV actor and BJP supporter — on grounds that he lacked requisite “creative credentials” to helm an institute as prestigious as the FTII.

The appointment of Mr. Chauhan as FTII Chairman was met with near-universal condemnation. His career summit – portraying the Pandava Yudhisthir in B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharat TV series, besides appearing in numerous B-grade TV soaps and Bollywood films, was starkly contrasted by students and his detractors, who compared Mr. Chauhan with such former FTII heads like Adoor Gopalkrishnan, Shyam Benegal and Saeed Akhtar Mirza, all luminaries of modern Indian cinema.

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Printable version | Jun 26, 2022 5:36:48 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/ftii-students-protest-ib-minister-anurag-thakurs-visit/article65385127.ece