Pune: The crisis at the student-strike hit Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) escalated on Tuesday after the police arrested five students in an unprecedented midnight crackdown at the campus. They were charged with rioting over the gherao of director Prashant Pathrabe who claimed in a press conference on Wednesday that he was tortured. The arrested students were later granted bail by a local court on Wednesday morning.
FTII director Prashant Pathrabe
Fifteen students had allegedly gheraoed FTII director Prashant Pathrabe on Tuesday night, intensifying their demand for the removal of BJP member and television actor Gajendra Chauhan as the chairman of the prestigious institution, citing that he does not have the credentials required for the job. Pathrabe, however, has rejected suggestions he was forced to file the police complaint under pressure from the I&B ministry. The students have been charged with vandalising the director’s office and damaging glass panes, a computer and table amid conflicting versions as to who was responsible for the vandalism.
The students had gheraoed Pathrabe challenging his decision to go ahead with the assessment of the incomplete diploma film projects of the 2008 batch. Pathrabe claimed the students vandalised furniture in his office while a student said he had a video that purportedly showed a policeman in plainclothes breaking the glass of the director’s office. “I really wonder by what yardstick you can call such people ‘students’. They wanted to enact a drama, it was all pre planned,” said a visibly disturbed Pathrabe, at a press conference held in the campus.
Students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) show placards during their agitation at the institute.
He added that the students called him “incapable and inefficient” and tried to break him down. Describing the gherao, which he said lasted for 8-10 hours on Monday evening, as a “pre-planned drama” by the students, the director alleged that it was demonstrative of violence as the students vandalised furniture in his office. “Their claim of carrying on a peaceful agitation is just a facade.” Detailing the incident, he says, “ I was tortured, threatened, physically pushed around and subjected to disrespectful and insulting behavior by 40 odd students, who came to my office cabin and used cruel interrogation techniques asking repeatedly why I ordered for the assessment of the incomplete film projects of the 2008 batch.”
Magistrate Narendra Joshi of a local court in Pune rejected the prosecution’s plea for police custody of the students on Wednesday morning, granting them bail of the sum of Rs 3,000 to each student. Defence lawyers Shrikant Shivade and Aseem Sarode refuted the prosecution’s charge that the students had indulged in violent behavior during the sit-in with the director. They said that their purpose was only to discuss the assessment issues of the 2008 batch, and the students were not “thugs.” Needless to say, the arrests have generated a volley of reactions from politicians and the film industry (see box). The students have been striking for 70 days.
Kedarnath Awati, the president of the FTII Teachers Association, accused the FTII Director Prashant Pathrabe of leaking false information ultimately leading to a crackdown on the institute and to the arrest of five students. In a letter forwarded to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, Awati said that the FTII faculty were present till the last moment in the meeting between the students and Pathrabe, and that there was no incident of violence. He further stated that Pathrabe did not consult senior faculty members before he called in the police to arrest the students. The letter also requested the Centre to send in their three-member team after the 25th of August, since the faculty members will be busy with the entrance examination procedure till then. The team is supposed to arrive on the 21st of August.
The police have charged students of FTII under the following sections of the Indian Penal Code:
143: Unlawful assembly.
149: Every member of an unlawful assembly is guilty of the offence committed in the prosecution of a common object.
323: Voluntarily causing hurt.
353: Assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty.
506: Criminal intimidation.