FTII Admin Refuses To Budge Even as Five Students Continue Hunger Strike Against Expulsion

The hunger strike has entered its sixth day on May 20. One of the students fell seriously ill on Friday and had to be moved to a hospital.

Mumbai: For the past five days, a 27-year-old film student at the premier Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune, along with four others, has been on a hunger strike. The student, Ayush Verma, was recently failed by the institute for not securing the minimum attendance in the first year of his two-year-long film diploma course. Verma, who belongs to the Dalit community from Rajasthan, was expelled even when he had provided medical documents of his ongoing psychiatric treatment. 

The hunger strike on Friday took a dramatic turn when one of the fasting students, Aswin Ak, fell seriously ill and had to be moved to a hospital. “He was seriously dehydrated. His vitals rapidly dropped and he was moved to the hospital,” said Ayan Mrinal, one of the students on strike. 

Aswin Ak, one of the protesting students, fell seriously ill and had to be moved to a hospital. Photo: By arrangement

While the students have been on a hunger strike for the past five days, they began their demonstration on April 10. This was soon after the administration had decided to expel five students, including Verma and Mrinal, for lack of adequate attendance. While the administration accepted the reasons provided by other students, Verma’s case was not considered. 

Verma, talking to The Wire, says, the moment the institute asked him for medical proof of why he could not attend classes, he had provided them. Verma says he was earlier reluctant to disclose his mental health status to the institute, which has so far only been “terribly hostile” towards him. “But when I realised there was no way to continue my studies, I provided the required medical treatment proofs,” Verma said. These proofs, however, were not considered “adequate” by the institute, he adds.

The registrar had written to the psychiatrist without Verma’s knowledge or consent and was asked to prove that Verma’s condition was really so bad that he could not meet the college’s prerequisite attendance. The college record shows Verma could manage only 10 credits or 30% attendance, as against the 16 credits that are essential to pass the course. “But with the medical leave certificate that I had furnished for seven days, my attendance automatically went up and met the requirement,” Verma says. 

He further adds that he had also attended two optional courses and with that, his credits would have risen to 18. However, the institute decided to not consider it in his case.

Verma, who comes from an engineering background, says he tries very hard to not think of the institute’s behaviour towards him as an outcome of his caste. “But it is hard,” he says. “Just look at the way they have treated my case as against other students.” He adds, “Not only have they tried to lower my dignity, but also made it look like I am incapable of studying at this premier institute.” His condition, at the time he spoke to The Wire, was weak and he had been complaining of loose motions and dehydration.

FTII students protest against the expulsion of a student. Photo: By arrangement

The protesting students alleged that the institute had called for an “emergency academic council meeting” to expel the five students. “But now that we are on a hunger strike and have been insisting that another emergency academic council meeting be organised so that the classes can go on without any further delay and Ayush can be reinstated, the institute is ignoring our demand,” says Mrinal. FTII has called for the next academic council meeting on May 30. 

The Wire contacted the institute’s registrar Sayyid Rabeehashmi, who claimed that Verma had not furnished the documents on time. Sayyid also denied the student’s allegations that the institute has been unwilling to engage with the students and look into their demands. “It is not true. We have from time to time met with the students. And not just that, the academic council also has representatives from the student body,” Rabeehashmi claimed. He added that on May 30, the academic council will, among other issues, look into Verma’s case also.