Students of Kerala's KR Narayanan film institute protest against caste bias, antagonism

EdexLive Desk

For the past five years, Anandapadmanabhan, a former cinematography student at the KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts, at Thekkumthala, in Kottayam, Kerala has been fighting to complete his course requirements. For that, he needs to be part of a diploma film project. Anandan, however, was excluded from the team by the institute's authorities reportedly for leading a strike to get students e-grants from the government. His request for joining the project team of his junior batch was also turned down. After a brief pause, Anandan has moved court and his case is pending, as reported by The New Indian Express.

This is not an isolated case as far as the prestigious film institute, under the state government, is concerned. Ever since the institute was established in 2014, several allegations have emerged against authorities. Eight years after its opening, complaints over initial hiccups have morphed into major issues, including caste discrimination — shockingly in an institution named after KR Narayanan, the first Dalit President of India.

Students and their strike
Students of two current batches have been on an indefinite strike for 11 days demanding the resignation of Shanker Mohan, Director of the institute, for alleged caste discrimination and various other charges. "Apart from students, a few housekeeping staff have also complained of caste discrimination on the part of director. A Dalit student was denied admission to the 2022-23 batch in the reservation category citing flimsy reasons," said Sreedev Suprakash, Chairman of the students' council.

Though these immediate concerns provoked the indefinite strike, a raft of issues has been prevailing since inception. "The institute has lost its vision and mission. It neither stands for the welfare of students nor to support the cinema industry. A few persons have hijacked the institute, which is said to be the third film institute in India after Pune and Kolkata," said Akhil Dev, who left the institute after joining the script writing and direction course as the top rank holder in the entrance exam of 2019.

Student protests are not new here. "The institute is yet to become student-friendly even after eight years of existence. When I approached the court to complete my project work, the management raised as many as 10 false allegations against me. However, I have been able to counter all of them," said Anandan.

Students had launched another strike in January this year, when four compatriots were expelled from the institute for allegedly protesting against a decision to shift classes to a rented building. They were reinstated following the protest.

Restructuring of PG diploma course
Shortly after, authorities restructured the PG diploma course by cutting down its duration from three to two years, which also riled the students. "The restructuring of study programmes to two years, an experiment once tried out at the Pune FTII without success, was carried out by keeping the students in the dark," Sreedev said.

While support has been pouring in for protesters from various quarters, including the film fraternity, no concrete efforts have been forthcoming from authorities. Higher Education Minister R Bindu recently constituted a three-member panel to study the issue. The panel is slated to visit the institute on Saturday.

The institute's director was not available for comment despite multiple attempts to contact him.

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