DEMANDING that the expulsion order of 14 girl students be revoked “unconditionally”, agitating students of Kolkata’s Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) allegedly gheraoed their director till wee hours of Saturday. Director Debamitra Mitra allegedly fell sick and was taken to the Medica Hospital, from where she was discharged later in the day. The expulsion order had triggered protests at the institute’s campus on October 17. The order was issued after all but 14 girl students refused to vacate their old hostel building, where boys also used to stay in a separate wing, and shift to a new one — which will only accommodate girls.
The new hostel inside the campus, which had come up in 2015, also had a boy and a girl wing like the old hostel. However, in July, SRFTI issued an order asking all girls to shift to the new hostel and the boys to the old one. Early September, all but 14 girls shifted to their respective hostels. The rooms of these 14 girls were since locked by the institute. Following this, the SRFTI administration issued an order stating that those left must shift to their allotted hostels by October 16. Trouble started on October 14, when the 14 girls, along with nine boys, allegedly broke open the locked rooms and indulged in vandalism. The next day, the 14 girls were expelled. An FIR was also lodged against a few students on charges of vandalism at Panchshayar police station.
According to SRFTI, the nine boys were also supposed to be expelled on October 17 but since the strike started, the order couldn’t be issued. The institute issued a showcause notice to these boys on Friday, asking them why punitive action should not be taken against them. The day also saw the students staging a demonstration in front of Mitra’s office, demanding immediate revocation of expulsion order. Speaking to The Sunday Express, Mitra said the students gheraoed her on Friday evening. The gherao continued till around 1 am, she alleged. She claimed that as per norms of SRFTI, it is not possible to accept the students’ demand of an unconditional revocation of the expulsion.
“They had blocked the administrative building from October 17 to 20. On October 23, they stopped all employees from entering the campus… But we had a long discussion with the students on Thursday. They said they were ready to shift to their allotted hostels. So, it was decided that they would issue an apology letter and once they shift to their rooms, the warden will file a report, which would be submitted to me and the dean. Since the order cannot be revoked unconditionally, the students will be given some minor punishment,” she added.
“On Friday, they allowed the institute to function. But suddenly, they started saying that nothing will happen till the expulsion order is revoked unconditionally. This, despite we repeatedly telling them that a minor condition would be imposed as per institute rules. In the evening, some students vandalised the administrative block building… a huge windowpane was broken,” said Mitra.
“I was also given a letter stating that nothing will happen till I revoke the expulsion order unconditionally. The entire dialogue was a waste. Out of anxiety, I fell ill and was taken to the hospital,” said Mitra. “The order cannot be revoked unconditionally. We follow the law… Such orders can be revoked but with minor conditions. Even if they gherao me for a year, I will not be able to do so. They are protesting on a ground, which can never be implemented,” said Mitra.
Akshay Gouri, president of the SRFTI students association, said: “We will escalate our protest… There have been so many dialogues but no outcome… We will not withdraw till the expulsion order against the 14 girls and the showcause notice against nine boys are withdrawn completely.” He denied that Mitra was gheraoed. “It wasn’t a gherao… we were just sitting outside and protesting since she wasn’t ready for any further dialogue. We never forced her to stay inside. She was free to leave. Why is it being called a gherao?” he asked.
“The boys who had indulged in vandalism is not connected to our protest…. It is an isolated incident and we condemn that property was damaged,” he added. On Friday, the SRFTI management had got an FIR lodged against a student, Harihar Sudhan, who had allegedly broken the windowpane at the administrative block on October 14.