The five arrested students of the Film and Television Institute of India were given bail on Wednesday as conflicting reports emerged on what exactly happened before they were taken into custody. FTII director Prashant Pathrabe told the media that he had been “illegally confined” for 8-10 hours and the students had “tortured using interrogation techniques.”
This was flatly contradicted by the students who said they had sat with him and shared tea and snacks in a light hearted mood with jokes. FTII faculty members too claimed the director was making wrong statements because the meeting was very peaceful and had only turned chaotic when he called the police. They posted a video on their Facebook page FTII Wisdom Tree, asking, “Is this torture, you decide.”
The students were arrested and charged with rioting and other alleged violations of the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure code. These arrests were made following complaints from the director of the institute that he was “gheraoed”. The FIR was filed against a total of 40 students out of which only 15 were named and 5 were arrested and taken in to judicial custody.
The arrests has been criticized by the social media community and by leading members of the film industry. Director Shyam Benegal was quoted as saying that the students should not have been arrested because they “were not criminals.” The students have been striking for almost 70 days against the nomination of actor Gajendra Chauhan as the Chairman of the Institute. They claim he is not qualified to hold the post.
Striking students in Delhi held a joint press conference along with the parents of some of the students who were arrested to clarify the events that transpired on the campus. They claimed that the students of the 2008 batch who were suddenly called for assessment had simply made an attempt to negotiate with the director about why this was being done during the strike. The director Prashant Pathrabe had no actual authority to call for the assessment without the approval of the academic council, the students said.
In response to allegations that the students were violent, a former student and current participant in the strike Kislay said, “We have video evidence of the fact that there was no harassment on the part of the students. It was the students who were pushed around by the police, who came in to the campus at 1:15 am in the morning. Many of them were not in uniform and there were no female police officers despite the fact that 3 out of the 15 students against whom there was an arrest warrant were girls.”
He further added that the Director himself had held a conference the previous day stating that the police would no longer be allowed in to the campus and that the safety of the students was his priority. On the following day however, at the time that the arrest was made neither the director nor the registrar were present on the campus and the students at the institute had no official guardian present.
The students added that there was a lot of confusion in the media about the delay in the projects of the students of the 2008 batch. “It must be noted that the 2008 batch was not only delayed by 6 months due to swine flu scares, but they were also the batch who were not provided adequate equipment for post production when digitization was introduced in 2012. To blame the delay of their project assessments solely on them is not fair at all.”
Vishnuvardhan Biwas father of one of the students that was arrested Raju Biswas said “this should not be happening in a democracy, I am very disturbed that my son is being arrested for demanding that he gets basic creative liberty at a film institute”.
Another parent Smitha Raman said, “My heart bleeds at the fact that in 70 days the students have been met with nothing but threats or dismissal from the government. This is a government that came in to power stating that they had the interests of the youth in mind. While I respect the students resistance, every day of the protest is a financial liability.”