KR Narayanan Film Institute, KR Narayanan Film Institute, Dalits,. Crimes against Dalits, student protest, Kerala Film Institute, Thiruvananthapuram, caste bias
Students and staffers protest at KR Narayanan Film Institute in Thiruvananthapuram

Kerala film institute strike: Impasse continues as govt forms committee

A section of students and staffers are up in arms in Kerala’s prestigious film institute, alleging discrimination against Dalits. Authorities deny this and say that some complainants are being instigated.

The protesting students and staff are blaming Sankar Mohan, director of the KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts (KRNNIVSA) at Kottayam, for all the mess.

Besides allegations of high-handedness heaped on Dalit employees, it is said that the rules regarding reservation in admission are also being violated. The issue has not been resolved though the controversy surfaced at least two weeks ago.

Kottayam film institute
KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts at Kottayam

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The film institute, as KRNNIVSA is popularly known, opened in 2014. It has presently 82 students – with Dalits in the minority – spread across six departments, including those of script writing and direction, cinematography, editing, audio, animation and acting.

Dalit complaints

According to the students and the cleaning staff, some women were being forced to clean the toilets at the residence of Sankar Mohan, a former head of the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute in Kolkata.

“We are asked to clean his house and toilets. We are not supposed to do that. We are appointed for cleaning the campus. His wife asked us to clean the toilets with a small scrubber. We were not allowed to use a brush,” Saimi, one of five women who has hurled allegations of caste discrimination, told The Federal.

Added Dhanya, another woman: “I was asked to take a shower (in a bathroom outside the house) before entering their house. They (director and wife) asked about my caste. We were not asked to do their domestic work.”

Bhavya Raj, a student of cinematography, says these are the immediate trigger for the strike that began a month ago.

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“There are long-standing problems. The reservation rules are not being followed and students from Dalit and other backward communities are discriminated against. The Dalit students were asked to pay fees, and e-grants were denied,” she told The Federal.

The students have submitted representations to the Kerala Chief Minister and the Minister for Higher Education.

‘All this is untrue’

Sankar Mohan vehemently denied the charges. “These are nothing but fabricated stories,” he told The Federal. “There is no evidence. These women are playing into the hands of someone.”

He said the cleaning workers had never made such complaints earlier.

But the staff insisted that they had raised the issue with the authorities several times but no one cared to listen.

Kottayam film institute

“We have raised this issue with the Estate Manager as well as the Administrative Officer. We even told the Director himself that we will not clean their private toilets,” Dhanya said. “His wife scolded me for raising this issue.”

Sabotaging reservation?

According to students, the institute violates the 50 per cent reservation principle.

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“This is clear from the records. In 2022 admissions, the entire seats for ‘script writing and direction’ were allotted to the general category. In other branches, the students who got admission in the open quota were listed under the reservation category. Thus, deserving reservations were kept out,” said Bhavya.

The LBS Centre running the entrance examination and preparing the list of eligible candidates prepared a list of 265 candidates for the academic year 2022-2023.

The institute pruned this list to 133. The students allege that such a cut would reduce the chances of filling the mandatory reservation seats.

Further, the LBS was reportedly asked by the institute to revise the list with new cut-off marks. The LBS objected to this.

Kottayam film institute

“(Our) representative objected about the cut-off marks since it was not included in the prospectus. It may cause complaints from candidates on a later stage,” the Deputy Director of the LBS Centre told the Director in a missive on September 22.

Student charges

The reservation principles have been violated even in the new list, according to the students.

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They allege that in the allotment list for the animation and VFX department, the mandatory reservation for persons with disability was not followed.

In the audiography department, two students from the SC/BC category were denied admission while four reserved category seats remained vacant. While the admission was completed, only nine out of 30 reserved seats were filled.

Ten eligible candidates from the new list and several candidates from the previous list (of 265) were denied admission, a note prepared by the students on strike pointed out.

In the editing department, Sharat, a Dalit, was denied admission as he did not meet the cut-off marks. Sharat, who moved the High Court, then got admission to Kolkata. The High Court dismissed the arguments of the Institute and ordered that he be admitted.

Sankar Mohan told The Federal that he was not aware of the technicalities of reservation because the admission procedure was done by LBS.

What Adoor Gopalakrishnan says 

The Chairman of the institute, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, an eminent film-maker, also denied the allegations raised by the students.

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According to him, “Forcing someone to wash the toilet is very unlikely to happen. Who can believe such stories? I know (Sankar Mohan’s) wife. She is an educated woman. She will never do such things,” Gopalakrishnan told The Federal.

He said he had not spoken to the cleaning staff. “I don’t need to talk to them, why should I do that? I know for certain that it (is all) a lie. They are poor women but they are lying according to someone else’s plans.”

An earlier remark attributed to Gopalakrishnan that the cleaning staff was showing off their “good clothes” sparked a storm. Gopalakrishnan said he had made no derogatory remark but his words were twisted by the media.

The Kerala government has appointed an inquiry commission to probe the matter. It will submit a report in a week. “We are in the process of preparing the report. We are listening to all the stakeholders,” Dr NK Jayakumar, a member of the commission, told The Federal.

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