I&B Minister welcomed with protests by students at FTII
The minister was on a short official visit to the institute.
Students of Pune’ Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) condemned the visit of Union Minister Anurag Thakur to the campus today, stating that it was a “vicious attack on our (their) basic values”. The students’ representatives also said that while they tried talking to the Minister regarding their issues, they could not engage with him in a fruitful conversation. The students also feel that since Thakur’s appointment, the gap between students and administration has increased.
Students conducted a peaceful demonstration at FTII’s main entrance at the time of Thakur’s visit, holding placards like ‘Minister of Hate, You are not welcome’. Sayantan, a member of FTII’s Students’ Association told Indie Journal that Thakur only visited the offices, departments and studios in the campus and did not meet the students. “We are the biggest stakeholders in the institute and he did not meet us. In fact, while we were allowed in the common areas, when he was visiting any department or studio, we were not allowed inside,” he said.
A statement issued by the Students Association at FTII said that Thakur’s beliefs and proclamations of the recent past are nothing short of venomous and absolutely despicable. They also said that since his appointment as the Minister for Information and Broadcasting (I&B), under which the institute runs, curtailments faced by the students are becoming more and more apparent.
Avanti Basargekar, President of Students’ Association, said that they were given barely two minutes to meet and talk to the Minister today, where they could convey around five of their demands and grievances to him.
“But there was not much of an agreement on any of it. We were waiting for him for a very long time while he was having a meeting with the officials. We had very limited time. He just heard us for a while and then moved on,” she said.
Basargekar also said that the language used by the Minister during the meeting was dismissive.
“We raised many issues with regards to the infrastructure, academic clashes, the institute’s inability to accommodate so many batches together, lack of representation in the academic council, fee hike and its impact on this space and so on. He questioned the validity of most of them,” she added.
When asked what changed since Thakur took up the ministry last year, Basargekar said, “The gap between the administration keeps on increasing and I think that is in a large part to do with that. There have been struggles from students to raise concerns about fee hikes, how it matters here because this is a government institution. With him taking over, these gaps have increased even further. A lot of our concerns have been dismissed. The forums that we have had to address our concerns have been taken away.”
In fact, the students also alleged that when the Apurva Chandra, Additional Secretary, I&B Ministry came to know about the demonstrations, he threatened to take away all initiatives that he had verbally promised and to cut down the budget of the institute as well.
Why was the demonstration staged today?
The students body, in its statement issued earlier, said that the impact Thakur’s words have had on vulnerable communities in our country is painfully visible for all to see. “This is the same man who openly instigated communal riots after a hate speech in the capital of our country. Other comments on subsequent events also make clear his stand against those already marginalised in our society. Specifically, he has caused long-lasting fear amongst student communities across India. The effect his speech has had on Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Milia Islamia University will not be forgotten by those living here in Pune, in FTII,” the statement issued by the Students’ Association read.
Being part of a campus that “always upheld secular, democratic values, where there is no space for communal divisions or hatred along any lines”, the students said that they struggle to find the means to accommodate Thakur and his beliefs. They also questioned the glorified welcome extended to him by the administration.
“We, as the student community of FTII, condemned Thakur’s presence here as FTII has always had a democratic, secular ambiance. So we had a peaceful demonstration. We did not sloganeer,” Sayantan said.
Back in 2015, the students protested for over 1140 days, when Gajendra Chauhan was appointed as the chairman of FTII’s Governing Council. While Chauhan is most famously recognised for the TV series Mahabharata and several questionable films, the students questioned his creative credentials. They also viewed his appointment as a way to push right-wing propaganda in the institution. There have been several altercations wherein the students have questioned the institute’s governing council and the director over surveillance imposed on the students, fee hikes as well as privatisation attempts.
Alleged Academic and Administrative issues at FTII
The students’ representatives also pointed out the difficulties students have been facing since they came back to campus after a gap of two years due to the pandemic. Basargekar said, “There has been no attempt to bridge the gap that has happened. The new batch has taken most of its course online. Even after they have come back, the classes that they were supposed to get have not been given to them. When the classes were asked for, the response given to them was totally apathetic. We have raised this concern with the chairman and the Minister as well.”
It was the first time the Chairman and the Minister visited the institute, Basargekar said. She also said that a lack of permanent leadership on campus also makes it difficult for students to voice their concerns.
The institute only has an interim director at the moment. “There is no permanent leadership. There is no permanent dean as well. When we approach the dean or the director regarding academics, all our matters are shifted. Nobody is willing to take sole responsibility.