Guest Post by Prateek Vats
Picture of Demonstration before Parliament
“In a two-finger test, a doctor at the government hospital inserts two fingers into the rape victim’s vagina to check for the presence or absence of the hymen and also to check the ‘laxity’ of the vagina, ostensibly to check if penile penetration has taken place. The test is deemed to establish whether the woman has had sexual intercourse and if she is habituated to it. Incidentally even that can’t be ascertained from this test since the presence or absence of hymen or width of the vagina has no correlation with virginity or sexual activity.”1
The correlation between Pune police’s impending raid at the FTII campus and the faulty appointments at the FTII society seem to be equally baffling. What logic justifies the police being used against the students when it is they who have faced vandalism and open threats during the course of their strike? It is they who need to be protected so that attention is not diverted from the grave questions they have raised. Unfortunately, the coercive steps taken by FTII administration and local law enforcing agencies betray the same indifference, insensitivity and irresponsibility epitomized by an archaic procedure like the two-finger test, which serves the twin functions of terrorizing and humiliating the already brutalized victim.
To portray the students as moral offenders just as their questions are about to reach the highest symbol of our democracy- the Parliament – betrays a desperate attempt to deflect the main issues regarding the premise and the process of appointments at the new FTII Society .Why such desperation? Why such coercion? Why such evasion?
FTII is being subjected to a sustained campaign of character assassination aimed at belittling it to a point of irrelevance where it is conducive for the government to eventually privatize /disinvest in the esteemed institution on ground of inefficiency and lack of self sustenance. This would make it financially inaccessible to a majority of Indian people, consequently putting an end to the plurality of voices that FTII has proudly produced over the years. As if the contentious appointments weren’t already a vulgar enough humiliation of the academic rigor, ethos, and values of such institutions -Now an attempt is being made to break the spirited struggle of the students through blatant highhandedness. The methodical cultivation of a climate of fear seems more of a priority for the authorities rather than understanding, let alone finding the answers to the students’ questions. In this, the mainstream media and politicians are equally culpable. Students are asking for academic rigour and help in steering the institute into new direction. It is being projected only as the removal of individuals from the newly appointed FTII society.
Why were incompetent people with dodgy professional ethics appointed at FTII? Why are they being shamelessly defended despite public outcry? Why did the ministry officials evade all questions that led to the strike? Why did the minister hint at privatization when asked about these appointments? Why/who gave permission to the fringe fundamentalist group to protest on FTII property? Why wasn’t it a “law & order” situation when an art installation was vandalized at the gate? Why was the local police called in over a flimsy complaint? Why are cases being put on students? Who is taking these calls? They are students! They have to ask questions. It is their right! It is our duty to answer them.
“In the history of independent India, the present FTII Strike would poise to become the longest and sustained struggle for the sake of Art. It is already a precedent. Let it be handled with care.”2
This appeal by an ex –student, who also happens to be a lawyer and a former President of the Students’ association, seems to have fallen on deaf ears of a jaded administrative mindset which refuses to acknowledge the progressive, vibrant and plural nature of the strike. The blocking of the students’ social media platforms, the threat of expulsion, the maligning of the institute as a den of hedonistic anti-Hindus, anti nationals, naxalites & substance abusers points towards the systematic character assassination of a public institution which has put the country on the international map by serving its people for more than five decades. Institutions like FTII have synthesized the great traditions of the subcontinent, folk and classical and transmuted it into a modern language –that of Cinema. Students interrogate traditions. They do not blindly follow them. What else are educational institutions supposed to do if not encourage students to think critically and be proud of the renewed wealth and relevance of their heritage?
The authorities seem to have run out of ideas about how to respond to a protest, which has captured the imagination of the country and managed to eke out its space among the horrors facing our society at the moment. The innovative, non –violent, cultural and academic nature of this unprecedented strike commands more respect and dignity than it is being granted. In wake of the recent developments at ICHR, TIFR and IIM’s who have faced government interference in areas of academics and governance, the resistance at FTII is commendable. It is of utmost importance that we recognize the true spirit and potential of the strike towards in attempting to preserve the multiciplity of our cultural and artistic expression, which is under relentless threat of “ One India, One vision” – A vision where all voices of dissent- be it of the dispossessed, tribal, NGOs and now FTII students – are ‘anti-national’.
“Neeta’s character (in Meghe Dhaka Tara) reflects the split in Indian society of her inability to combine responsibility with necessary violence to build for herself a real future.”3
This observation by Kumar Shahani about the prophetic film by the genius film maker Ritwik Ghatak (who was a former Vice Principal of FTII) can help us find an explanation for the dogged agitation of the students-Maybe the students don’t want to end up as an echo of Neeta’s haunting screams for a life, which passed her by.
The current strike of the student’s association should not be seen just as a reaction against the ill-advised appointments but should also be contextualized in a long-term struggle of generations of film students, filmmakers, independent artists and academicians. This strike is an articulation of the collective disappointment towards the ministry and administration, which has time and again shown indifference and insensitivity to long-standing demands by continuously undermining institutional autonomy. The tendency and urge to over-simplify the strike- as “against a few individuals” – could end up being counter-productive to the larger, more nuanced debate, which is at the heart of this agitation.
Simple and straightforward questions, if answered in time, could have saved the growing embarrassment for the government. Everyday that the government refuses to answer the questions it will alienate scores of young people, their parents, teachers and the public at large. Every day the Government makes it an ego issue it would they would invite sharper questions. Everyday that the government unleashes brutal force, it will galvanize the people even more. Everyday the government resorts to arm-twisting it will generate more sympathy for students and anger against the government. Even the International community has started to raise alarm. It is becoming a question of democracy. Is it a phenomenon, which comes only once every five years? , all seem to be asking.
“It is unclear whether the protesting FTII students will be able to continue their battle. They face the threat of expulsion, and government representatives have made it clear that there is little room for negotiation. But academic freedom appears to be hanging in the balance. How far will Indians let their government go?”4
It is high time that the popularly elected government realizes that the acceptance of the students’ demands is the best brochure of inclusivity and tolerance that they could ask for at this difficult moment. The developments at IIT Madras raised hopes of a government, which was willing to recognize and correct its errors of judgment. Let this opportunity not slip you by. The country is watching. The world is watching.
Prateek is a National Award winner, a graduate of the Film & Television Institute of India and a former G. Sec of the FTII students association.
- Aravindan GP’s social media post.
- Kumar Shahni’s critique of Meghe Dhaka Tara.