As teachers, scholars and researchers of the media we are deeply disturbed by the obduracy and high-handedness shown by the authorities to the legitimate issues and questions raised by the students of FTII who have been on strike since June 12, 2015.
It has now been established that Gajendra Chauhan, an official member of the BJP since 2004, was chosen to be the Chairman of the Governing Council and consequently, President of the FTII Society for his loyalty to the party and not because he has any credentials to occupy these posts. A “star campaigner” for the BJP during the Lok Sabha elections, Chauhan’s only claim to visibility has been his role as Yudhisthra in the TV series Mahabharata and his role in the current controversy. He does not possess any professional or academic qualification that makes him remotely eligible for the job. It is a an absolute travesty that Chauhan should be handed a chair that has in the past been occupied by nationally and internationally recognised personalities like UR Ananthamurthy, Girish Karnad, Shyam Benegal, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Mahesh Bhatt and Mrinal Sen.
Chauhan’s is not the only scandalous appointment. Four out of the eight appointees to the FTII society, Anagha Ghaisas, Rahul Solapurkar, Narendra Pathak and Pranjal Saikia, have strong Hindutva links and believe that a “new thought process” should be introduced into FTII. Ghaisas, who made a hagiographic film on Narendra Modi called `A Tale of Extraordinary Leadership’, has declared that FTII should instil “nationalistic feelings” in its students. Narendra Pathak who believes that “mischief makers working against the government should be suitably punished”, is former president of the ABVP, the organisation that physically assaulted some FTII students and others after a screening of Anand Patwardhan’s Jai Bhim Comrade at the National Film Archive of India, Pune, organised by some Dalit organisations. Both Ghaisas and Pathak were appointed under the ‘person of eminence category’.
Through its dubious appointments not just in FTII but other key institutions like ICHR, ICCR, NFDC, NBT, CBFC, Prasar Bharati, the IIMs and the IITs, the current government has made it amply clear that they have no respect for qualifications, eligibility criteria, academic accomplishment or professional reputation. What is important for them, it appears, is that their appointees should be loyalists of the Sangh Parivar. This brazen political imposition is a frontal attack on the idea of institutional autonomy and academic excellence.
The FTII is a premier institution whose alumni have distinguished themselves not only in India but all over the world. Today the Bombay film industry is literally run by the expertise of professionals who have passed out of this institute. A traditional strength of FTII education has been that it imparts professional training in an environment that is intellectually vibrant. Despite persistent problems that have plagued the institute, the students share a progressive vision that today has come to collide with that of the current government.
We urge the government against taking any steps that would harm the career and interests of the students. We suggest that the current Governing Council is held passive till the FTII society is reconstituted. Till such time an interim body, acceptable to all stakeholders, should be constituted to supervise the transition.
We sincerely hope that the government will pay heed to the legitimate concerns of the students and alumni of the FTII and take constructive steps that will break the impasse and win back the confidence of the students.
Shohini Ghosh, Sajjad Zaheer Professor, AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
Ravi Vasudevan, Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi
Ranjani Mazumdar, Professor, Department of Cinema Studies, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
K.P. Jayasankar, Professor and Dean, School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
Moinak Biswas, Professor, Department of Film Studies, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
Anjali Monteiro, Professor, School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
Sabeena Gadihoke, Associate Professor, AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
Ira Bhaskar, Professor, Department of Cinema Studies, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Ravi Sundaram, Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi
Patricia Uberoi, Formerly Professor of Sociology, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi
Veena Hariharan, Assistant Professor, Department of Cinema Studies, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Shikha Jhingan, Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism, Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi
Venkatesh Chakravarthy, Regional Director, L.V. Prasad Film & Television Academy, Chennai
Madhavi Reddy, Associate Professor and Head, Department of Communication Studies, Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune
Alka Hingorani, Associate Professor, IDC, IIT-Bombay, Mumbai
Shaibani Azam, Professor, Digital Graphics and Animation, AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
Kaushik Bhaumik, Associate Professor, Department of Cinema Studies, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Sabina Kidwai, Associate Professor, AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
Madhav Prasad, Professor, English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad
Sohail Akbar, Associate Professor, AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
Sujithkumar Parayil, Assistant Professor, Centre For Media Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Gayatri Chatterjee, independent film critic, and Faculty, Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts, Pune
Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Raqs media Collective, co-initiator, SARAI, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies
Satish Poduval, Professor, Department of Cultural Studies, English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad
Rashmi Doraiswamy, Professor, MMAJ Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia
Jeebesh Bagchi, Raqs media Collective, co-initiator, SARAI, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies
Faiz Ullah, Assistant Professor, School of Media & Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
S.V. Srinivas, Professor, Azim Premji University, Bangalore
Uma Bhurgubanda, Assistant Professor, Department of Cultural Studies, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the statement belong to that of the signatories and do not represent the position of their affiliated institutions.