In a distressing turn of events, the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) has been engulfed in a fervent hunger strike after the unwarranted and discriminatory demotion of a Dalit student. The strike, which commenced on April 10th, escalated to a hunger strike on May 14th, marking its ardent continuation into the ninth day.
Tragically, a second student from FTII fell victim to deteriorating health conditions and was hospitalized on Monday.
This incident follows the earlier hospitalization of Ashwin, another student who fell gravely ill due to the distress caused by the ongoing struggle. As the strike entered its eighth week on Tuesday, the atmosphere at FTII remained charged with determination and resilience.
The genesis of this uproar can be traced back to April 10th, when students arrived at the institute for the new semester, only to be greeted with the news of the expulsion of five fellow students from their respective courses.
The administration justified this drastic action by citing reasons such as inadequate credits and poor attendance. However, the students swiftly approached the authorities, shedding light on the unique circumstances faced by each of the expelled students. Among these circumstances, one student's mother had tragically succumbed to illness after a prolonged battle in the ICU.
Driven by a shared sense of injustice, the students, representing various caste backgrounds, united in solidarity and embarked on a sit-in protest, or Dharna, on April 10th. Despite their initial demands falling on deaf ears, the strike persisted. Subsequently, the protest transformed into a hunger strike, as the students resolutely refused sustenance to underscore their plea for fair treatment and an inclusive environment at FTII.
Initially comprising three students, the strike gained momentum as two more students joined the cause. Regrettably, the arduous battle has taken its toll, with two of the five students now being hospitalized due to their deteriorating health conditions.
Highlighting a more profound issue plaguing the educational system, Atharva Karvekar, a student enrolled in the Editing course, shared with The Mooknayak shocking statistics and plight of the students from marginalised sections.
He revealed that nearly 19,000 SC/ST students have dropped out from the higher education institutes in the recent years , underscoring the urgent need for authorities to display empathy and address this concerning trend.
He said, "Since we initiated the strike on April 10th, the academic council decided to revoke the expulsion of four students on May 1st. However, Ayush, a Dalit student from Rajasthan enrolled in the Direction course, was subjected to demotion. He was asked to repeat a semester with the 2021 batch on a supernumerary basis, which essentially means he would be unable to participate in coordinated projects such as dialogue films and diploma films. Film making is predominantly focused on practical projects, and this discriminatory measure unfairly impacts Ayush."
Atharva highlighted the fact that Ayush had been unable to attend classes due to mental health issues, which were supported by medical certificates. He stressed that this situation was inherently discriminatory.
The students are determined to bring this grave matter to the forefront during the upcoming academic council meeting scheduled for May 30th.
FTII, an esteemed institution nestled in the realm of film and television, holds a distinguished position within the industry. Countless FTII alumni, including luminaries such as Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, and Subhash Ghai, have soared to great heights of success, earning both national and international acclaim.
FTII has witnessed previous chapters of student protests, with the most notable being the 139-day strike in 2015.
The students vehemently opposed the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan, an actor with limited experience but strong political affiliations, as the institute's chairman.
They questioned the appointment's political motivations and raised concerns about Chauhan's qualifications for the prestigious role. Throughout the strike, the students rallied for the appointment of a more qualified and experienced individual to lead FTII, while simultaneously calling for curriculum and infrastructure reforms.
Ultimately, the strike reached its resolution in October 2015 when the government consented to establish a committee to review the students' demands.
In a recent development, the students at FTII mobilized to voice their discontent over the controversial screening of the Bollywood film, "The Kerala Story."
As the hunger strike persists, the brave students of FTII persistently advocate for justice and an environment that fosters inclusivity.