The Strike At FTII Continues For 7th Month Even As Gajendra Chauhan Takes Office As Chairman

Richa Verma

January 16th, 2016

Image Source: huffingtonpost

We are well aware of the story of Gajendra Chauhan and his tryst with Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. For the uninitiated, he was appointed as Chairman of this top notch institute in June 2015. Since then the students of FTII and some of its best alumni have been staging a protest against the appointment of this BJP member, questioning his credentials. The FTII Students Association has dubbed the appointment as being political since Chauhan lacks in merit and stature commanded by the post. Chauhan is believed to have no vision for the administration of FTII.

The government and student association had been at loggerheads since then. The 139-days strike by students was called off on 28h October 2015. Chauhan was supposed to attend his first day in office on 7th January, and was welcomed by students shouting slogans like “Gajendra Chauhan go back!” and holding banners that read, “Silent Emergency” and “Tyranny of the Elected”. Around 40 students who participated in the protests were detained by the police and 17 have been issued the notice warning them of cancellation of bail in the case of continued protest.

While the students claimed that the protest was peaceful, the police said that they had to use force since the students wanted to block the way to the institute. According to Pune’s Deputy Commissioner of Police, Tushar Joshi, who was a witness to the entire incident, “We used minimum force.” The agitators have been released since then.

Bone of Contention

As stated already, Chauhan’s appointment is widely regarded to be politically inspired. His first meeting within the premises of FTII was supposed to be attended by Anagha Ghaisas, Rahul Solapurkar, Shailesh Gupta and Narendra Pathak. The FTII Students Association (FSA) had objected to their appointment, too, for being political. The meeting went ahead as scheduled since Chauhan stated on Wednesday, “It’s about fulfilling the responsibility… I have been ordered by the government, and I will do my job. Let me go there and see. I can’t comment on what they will do, but I am ready to do my job.”

Mr Chauhan is best remembered for playing the character of “Yudhishthira” in Mahabharata aired on television in 1988-90. Students claim that his appointment is an attempt made by BJP to build its stranglehold over the institute through the strengthening of its right-wing agenda. Chauhan has been compared to others in the past that have held this prestigious office.

In an answer to an RTI filed by Anil Galgil, FTII administrative officer SK Dekate revealed that nine chairmen have held the position since 1999. They include writer-critic UR Ananthmurthy (over 8 years), filmmaker Saeed Mirza (3 years), actor-director Girish Karnad (1 year), actor and BJP MP Vinod Khanna (twice for 2 years, attended only two meetings) and actor Pawan Chopra (3 months).

Students claim that Chauhan does not live up to the image of his predecessors and that the government chose a political appointee in order to bring things ‘in order” and maintain the status quo in the institute.

It is to be noted that FTII students do not need to pay any fees after the completion of their three years’ course to avail of all the facilities in the campus till they finish their projects. The average cost that the government pays on each student per year amounts to around 12 lakh. There were new rules introduced by the general council last year which stated that if a student did not finish his project within three years, his or her project would be evaluated on as-is-where-is basis by the faculty to award diplomas.

This was being resisted by 49 of the protesting students who opine that it was a strategy of the general council to get rid of them. They are of the opinion that the inadequate infrastructure at the institute is responsible for the delay in completion of their project.

In order to bring some sanity on the campus, the government appointed Gajendra Chauhan, a BJP member. Since the students have problems with such appointments they will continue to protest. Although Chauhan offered to resign earlier, the deadlock between students association and government have not been resolved yet and Chauhan presided over his first meeting with the governing body on 7th.

The Logical Indian community urges the government to come to a satisfactory solution to this impasse at FTII. There cannot be a sudden change in the rules of any institute which had previously been allowing students to avail of the facilities to finish their projects. If the students are not able to finish their projects on time due to lack of proper infrastructure and faculty, that problem has to be addressed first instead of evaluating their projects as they stand at the time of completion of three years.

Moreover, to appoint someone who is not at par with those who have held this post in the past is not a solution to any problem. The wishes of the students and alumni have to be taken into account. They certainly do not deserve to be lathi-charged, arrested or warned about the cancellation of their bail.

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