We’ve had a mammoth 139 day strike and have staged protests at the international Film Festival in Goa and on various other platforms, but the final blow dealt to us has shaken our faith in India’s democratic setup.
On Thursday morning (January 7), the students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) began a peaceful protest in front of the main gate when the new chairman Gajendra Chauhan came to the campus. From the time that this movement began and still continues, it must be mentioned that the students of FTII have never resorted to violence or vandalism, even in the face of extreme provocation, threats and relentless onslaughts on their integrity. The students still remain peaceful, non-violent and persistent in their means of protest. Even today, this was the case when the police forces manhandled and forced the students inside the riot police vehicles. The excessive force used was described as ‘minimal’ by the authorities later, but they did not elaborate upon what ‘minimal’ force exactly meant. Videos of the incidents are available online though, and those who see it can make their own judgement.
After around 40 students were detained and taken to the Shivaji Nagar Police station, the police continued to swarm around the FTII campus. There were about 150 police personnel, essentially one policeman for every student. Barricades were erected at various points on campus, disrupting regular academic activity and the campus looked like a war zone.
Hours later, after chairing the meetings, Chauhan and the others left, again under police protection, whilst a huge number of students were still in police custody. I must ask at this juncture: For whom has this institute been set up when the students, alumni, vast arrays of visiting and permanent faculty and sections of civil society’s voices are relentlessly stifled and ignored? What kind of governance is this?
I do not know what the future of FTII is going to be. What I do know is that the students remain as committed and determined, and as logically sound in their arguments about the new chairman as they were since these protests began. We remain concerned about the future of our institute and for batches of students that will come after us. We question whether they will have the freedom of expression that we are so blatantly being denied. And for that we will continue to fight. As gracefully and doggedly as we know how. We will continue to fight. Our institute is bigger than the government’s ego trip, and highly questionable agenda, and will always remain so. Democracies are supposed to be ‘by the people, of the people and for the people’. But what the people want doesn’t seem to matter to the powers that be. But it will. It has to. Otherwise dark days are ahead not only for us, but for all the citizens of this country.
Rahat Jain, a screenplay writing student of 2014 batch at Film and Television Institute of India, Pune shared his experiences with Rozelle Laha.