Students at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) Wednesday ended their 140-day-old strike — but the protest was taken forward by 12 filmmakers, who announced that they would return their National Awards over the unresolved FTII issue and the “rising intolerance” in the country. The students, too, said they would return to classes but “continue to protest and resist the current appointments in whatever peaceful and non-violent form we are able to”.
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Students had gone on an indefinite strike on June 12 following the appointment of television actor and BJP member Gajendra Chauhan as president of the FTII Society and chairman of its Governing Council. They also expressed discontent over four other “political” appointees who, they alleged, lacked the artistic and cinematic expertise to secure a place in the FTII Society.
The filmmakers who have decided to return their National Awards are Dibakar Banerjee, Anand Patwardhan, Paresh Kamdar, Nishtha Jain, Kirti Nakhwa, Harshavardhan Kulkarni, Hari Nair, Rakesh Sharma, Indraneel Lahiri and Lipika Singh Darai. Earlier, in Pune, two FTII alumni, Pratik Vatsa and Vikrant Pawar, made a similar announcement.
At a press conference in Mumbai, the filmmakers read out a joint statement and said they had decided to join protesting writers and Sahitya Akademi winners who had returned their awards. Some of them also brought their National Award medals with them.
“It has become imperative that we see the government’s stonewalling of students’ protest in a context. The Information and Broadcast Ministry has appointed people with a narrow vision in the institutions under them. FTII, Children’s Film Society and CBFC are examples that the film fraternity has objected to,” read the letter, addressed to the Prime Minister and the President.
“Meanwhile, we have watched the murders of rationalists and writers like Dr Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M M Kalburgi with dismay. These are clearly not random acts of violence. People are being murdered for their beliefs and opinions. There seems to be no attempt to unravel the larger picture and bring to book extremist groups that believe in ruthless violence to eliminate those who hold a counter view from theirs. There has been no official condemnation of these groups and we question this silence,” it read.
Jain said her award has become a daily reminder of the way the state looks at filmmakers.
Asked about the silence from Bollywood on the issue, Banerjee said the issue isn’t about Bollywood but about education. “When engineering students protest, do we expect the companies that employ engineers to unite behind those students,” he said.
“As common citizens who don’t believe in armed struggle; this is our weapon of protest,” said Patwardhan.
The FTII strike had forced the government to open a channel of dialogue with the protesters, but despite holding as many as eight meetings, they failed to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution. Sources from the students’ group said the latest meeting with Minister of State for I&B Rajyavardhan Rathore in New Delhi on October 20 convinced them that the negotiations would be futile.
This added to the anxiety among a section of students, who were growing impatient with the strike and were eager to return to classes, it is learnt. A lot of them felt the strike “would never end” as the government seemed to be in no hurry to resolve the issue. It was this pressure that most likely triggered the sudden withdrawal of the strike, sources said.
On Wednesday, students blamed the government representatives and the I&B Ministry, saying “they didn’t have the mandate” to discuss the contentious appointments.
“We must mention that until today, despite eight to nine meetings, no tangible solution to resolve the crisis has really been given to us. We were repeatedly told by Secretary-level officials and even by MoS Rathore that they did not have the mandate to remove contentious people from the FTII Society. Even when our representatives were whisked away to the capital and given assurances by the honourable Minister I&B Arun Jaitley and MoS Rathore, no concrete solutions were provided. They only gave us signals and even told that our ‘politicisation’ had led to the withdrawal of any such solutions,” said Vikas Urs, a final year Cinematography student.
“We’ve reached this decision after internal deliberations… From tomorrow, we will return to classes but will continue to protest and resist the current appointments in whatever peaceful and non-violent form we are able to. The lessons we have learnt will reflect in the films we will make,” said Harishankar Nachimuthu, president of the Students’ Association, who also urged filmmakers and artists to “take the fight forward”.
Students also shot off a letter to Rathore, saying they would not participate in any further talks with the ministry unless it met their demand of removing the contentious appointees.
“Although Rathore had conveyed he would hold another meeting with us, we would not attend any further meeting unless our core demands are met. We would continue with passive resistance till then,” said Rakesh Shukla, a final year Film Direction student.
“Passive resistance”, students said, would involve petitioning the court to demand a transparent system of appointments at the institute in the future. They also said they would try to corner the government, and especially the I&B Ministry, at the upcoming International Film Festival of India to be held in Goa by trying to persuade participants to boycott it.