It was the 20th day of their protest. The 200-odd students from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, marched from their campus to Omkareswar Bridge, near Balgandarv Rangmandir, the site where rationalist activist Narendra Dabholkar was found murdered in 2013. On the same day, the students posted on their Facebook page named FTII Wisdom Tree : “Today FTII has raised a question, tomorrow the country will.”
119 days later, the students called off their strike, though they warned that they will continue their struggle against the goverment’s autocratic moves — especially saffronisation and corporatisation of various institutions. If we are witnessing a massive outrage from the civil society across the country — from students, academicians, historians, scientists, film fraternity, labour unions and so on — against the Modi government, the trigger was in Pune, only.
The strike was initially not as political, as evidenced by their slogan of “No colour, No Fear”. It began on 12 June to protest the arbitrary decision of the central government to appoint Gajendra Chauhan as the chairman and four others — Anagha Ghaisa, Narendra Pathak, Shailesh Gupta and Rahul Solapurkar — in the governing council of the country’s premier film school. The students pointed out that proximity to the Sangh Parivar is the only criteria for these appointments.
This saffronisation of institutions is one of the biggest threats the country is facing, according to eminent historian Irfan Habeeb. “They [the government] have appointed political people from the Sangh in all institutions without the required qualifications and people are concerned about the way they’ve tried to give a particular colour to all cultural and educational institutions,” he said recently.
During their protracted struggle, student representatives met Arun Jaitely, Minister of Information and Broadcasting, and his deputy, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, to explore ways to break the impasse. Several rounds of discussions were held with officials too. However, the government refused to reconsider the unilateral appointment even after admitting that Chauhan and other nominees were not the best choice.
So the students decided to call off their strike on 28 October and declared they will not hold talks with the government again. Instead, they will continue their agitation at various forums. In fact, FTII students have made an open call to civil society to rally against the Modi government at various levels, The country is witnessing the rise of resistance, especially in the aftermath of the Dadri lynching and the burning of two Dalit children in Haryana.
“The FTII strike has acted as a catalyst,” says Resul Pookkutti, Academy Award winner and alumnus of the institute. “It is historically significant that around 200 students showed the guts to challenge the appointment and they could attract the support of the film industry legends.”