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New Delhi: Union minister for information and broadcasting Anurag Thakur faced protests from students when he visited the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, on Thursday, May 5, accusing him of fanning “communal hatred”, referring to his hate speech delivered days before riots took place in Delhi in February 2020.
The students staged a silent demonstration as the minister entered and went around the campus. As he arrived at the institute, around 300 student demonstrators held placards that spoke of the need for diversity in India, attacks on minorities and various issues concerning the institute. He walked past the protestors, who were gathered at a distance, accompanied by authorities of the institute. The minister’s review meeting at the institute passed off peacefully as scheduled, and he interacted with faculty and the administration.
Speaking to The Wire, Samadrita Ghosh, general secretary of the FTII Students’ Association, said, “We wanted to demonstrate that he is not welcomed by students given his political ideology, past actions and his open calls for violence when riots took place in Delhi.”
Referring to “desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko (shoot the traitors)” slogan made by Thakur during a speech he delivered days prior to the Delhi riots, Ghosh said, “His slogan and hate speech have affected our student community and minorities. So, we wanted to highlight this fact that he has actively fuelled communal hatred.”
However, she said that there wasn’t any crowding around the minister or sloganeering, and the programme wasn’t disturbed.
The student leader also alleged that they were threatened by an official from Thakur’s ministry, who visited the campus hours before the minister arrived asking them not to stage any demonstration.
“Before his arrival on the campus, the president and the general secretary of the students’ association faced direct threats from the additional secretary of the I&B Ministry, Mr. Apurva Chandra, stating that if we stage a demonstration, then the ministry will cut off funds for the institute and go against the welfare of the students. This is a serious threat to our democratic rights on the campus,” Ghosh said in a press statement.
The student body also clarified that they were not involved in the defacement of hoardings placed at the gate of the institute welcoming the minister as being alleged.
“We, students, strictly do not endorse this kind of defacement. In fact, by the time we had gathered in the morning, it was already defaced. No student has a role in this,” Ghosh said.
The student body said two of their representatives had spoken to the minister for two minutes to flag their concerns after making repeated requests to the authorities of the institute.
“We presented our concerns on paper in brief pointers to the minister. For a larger chunk of the issues, he refused to comment or make any conclusive statement. While discussing one of our pointers written on the paper, he raised his voice against the student representatives,” the press statement from the students said.
The students at FTII for long have been protesting against attacks on minorities, dissenters under the current regime and also the measures being taken by the institute negatively affecting the welfare of the students. FTII operates under the ministry of information and broadcasting.
Prior to Thakur’s visit, the student’ association had issued another statement condemning his visit. “…we cannot help but question what the presence of Mr. Thakur means to this place, in addition to the glorified welcome extended to him by our administration,” the statement had said.
It had also accused him of “openly instigat[ing] communal riots after a hate speech in the capital”, referring to his speech delivered prior to the Delhi riots in February 2020, where he had said “desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko (shoot the traitors)”.
“As if his words themselves weren’t vile and full of communal hatred, the impact they have had on vulnerable communities in our country is painfully visible for all to see,” the statement had said, explaining the rationale for their protest against Thakur’s visit to FTII campus.
The earlier statement, issued prior to Thakur’s visit, had raised several issues concerning the institute and students. They had accused the administration of revoking students’ representation in FTII’s academic council, and said campus security and the office of the proctor had been vested with “undue power”.
“Any voice raised for our rights and beliefs are taken to be an offence against the administration’s ideology and invite severe punishments that take back our scholarships with no room for redressal,” the statement had alleged. “Additionally, surveillance on students and their guests is increasing day by day…”
The students had also said that the tuition fee of the institute was allegedly being increased by 5% every year, which they said had made the institute “inaccessible to many sections of our society instead of upholding our educational rights”.