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#ExpressExplained: Why FTII students withdrewn their strike after 139 days

A section of the students had grown impatient and were eager to return to classes. They had threatened to disown the strike and start attending classes

Written by Atikh Rashid | Pune |
Updated: October 29, 2015 10:00:04 am
ftii strike, ftii protest, ftii A section of the students had grown impatient and were eager to return to classes. They had threatened to disown the strike and start attending classes.

After 139 days of staying away from classes to protest against what they called the ‘unjust appointments of undeserving candidates’ on the institute management, the students of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) on Wednesday announced that they would return to the classrooms. In the same breath, however, they vowed to continue to oppose the ‘unjust appointments’ using various avenues.

It’s more than apparent that the present decision by the students’ body to lay down arms stems from the fatigue caused by the four and half month-long agitation — and a reduced media and public interest in the issue. If they wished to, the students could have continued the strike until mid-November without suffering any further academic loss. Even after Wednesday’s decision to withdraw the strike, classes are expected to begin only once the Diwali vacation is over.

Watch Video: Discussing The Widening Of The Protest Against ‘Intolerance’

READ: FTII students call off hunger strike; Chauhan welcomes decision

Then why did the students’ body announced an almost suo motu withdrawal of the protest?

A section of the students had grown impatient and were eager to return to classes. They had threatened to disown the strike and start attending classes. From the way the negotiations were progressing, they felt that the strike “would never end” as the government was clearly in no hurry to resolve the issue. This threat if acted upon would have weakened the entire agitation and would have questioned the locus standi of the students’ representatives negotiating with the government. It was this fear that most likely triggered the immediate end of the strike.

“By ending the strike we have kept the students together. If our unity breaks then we won’t be able to face the tough time ahead of us and the institute,” an insider summed it up.

It is likely that the I&B ministry was aware of the internal tussle between the students and hence kept the ball rolling. The ministry spoke to students – many times – but refused to accept a single demand. They would set aside the “real issues” raised by the students saying that they “don’t have the mandate” and would talk about infrastructure and funding instead. The ministry, it seems, was convinced that if it kept extending talks, the strike would end on its own and they wouldn’t have to yield a thing. This strategy seems to have worked perfectly.

Another important issue that had dampened the spirit of the strike was the crunch of funds. Although students call the agitation a ‘low budget revolution’, the need for money became pressing when the legal aspects crept in post the registration of FIRs and the rejection of anticipatory bail of 12 students. Until August, a great deal of financial support for the agitation came from the institute alumni. However, at the end of July, when the students rejected an offer made by the government through back channel talks, which it refused to give in writing or state publicly, the alumni withdrew financial support.

In the ‘secret proposal’, the government had proposed to keep Chauhan on the Society and appoint a co-chairman of the students’ choice who would make “all the key decisions”. It would also appoint six society members of the students’ choice. The alumni felt that the students should have accepted the proposal as “they could not have got more from the government.” The students had shot down the proposal arguing a lack of transparency.

Insiders say the agitation was “almost over” in mid-August when the students returned from Delhi after a protest march. At that time, a majority of the students were inclined to withdraw the strike by making an emotional appeal to the people of the country that “they did what they could” to save the “onslaught” on the institute.

However, the institute management – which these days means the I&B Ministry — raked up the storm of the 2008 batch which also led to the unfortunate incident of forceful confinement of the institute Director Prashant Pathrabhe and the protest received a new lease of life. Soon after, a group of students who were very much part of the protest till then became impatient and pushed for immediate resolution of the crisis so that they could return to the classes.

The students representatives — about 20 of them studying various specializations at the institute — who have been leading the agitation, announced that although the strike has been revoked they will continue with, what they call, ‘passive resistance’. This essentially means that the students will petition the courts to demand a transparent system to make appointments at the institute in future, try to corner the government — especially the I& B Ministry — at the upcoming International Film Festival of India (IFFI) to be held Goa by trying to persuade the participants to boycott the festival and by distributing material to convey the “dangerous and degrading” policies adopted by the government towards the important cultural institutions in the country.

The students and filmmakers supporting them will try to pressurise the government by returning the film awards given to them. The trend started on Wednesday when two alumni and one student announced that they will forego their awards.

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