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Mr Minister, Are You Listening?: From an Ex-FTII Student

An open letter from an ex-student of FTII to the powers that be

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Entertainment
4 min read
A student sits against a slogan of protest at the FTII campus (Photo: Facebook/FTIIWisdomTree)

The honourable minister, we are told, won’t talk to the students. Yet again.

Late into the night, as I watch this largely amorphous group of students sit under a hand painted, makeshift tent in the middle of the FTII campus after what has been another long day of meetings, discussions, two guest lectures, threats of rustication, interviews about the vandalism of their art installation outside the campus gates the night before, where a large red question mark that had from day 1 represented the strike and the students right to question was broken to pieces – I see and hear what you from a distance don’t.

They are talking. And, they are listening.

On the 39th night of their non-violent, completely student driven strike, there are many who don’t agree with each other, just like on day 1 of strike. Yet, somehow, in an unexpected display of maturity and depth, day after day, these young students with varied, strong personal ideologies continue to talk to each other, discuss, disagree, debate, have a dialogue and eventually, after hours of open forum discussions, arrive at ways to get the honourable minister to simply listen to them.

Graffiti on the walls inside the FTII campus in Pune (Photo: Facebook/FTIIWisdomTree)
Graffiti on the walls inside the FTII campus in Pune (Photo: Facebook/FTIIWisdomTree)

They aren’t asking for much. They aren’t fighting a government. They can’t. They only want you to hear them – not through some back channel of power brokers, not to be dismissed simply because they are post-graduate film students and who talks to students, right? But because listening would mean that you care, that you are as worried as their parents, teachers and friends are about them missing more than a month of academics, it would mean that you want to resolve this, that you want to at least understand their real worries, their fears.



(Photo: Facebook/FTIIWisdomTree)
(Photo: Facebook/FTIIWisdomTree)

Under all the media hoo-hah, cries of go back so and so and talks of inefficiency and indiscipline – what the students are asking for is really quite fundamental. They are asking for more institutional and academic freedom for the film institute, they are asking the government to recognize the important role that a film institute like FTII plays in creating future thinkers, storytellers, opinion makers and thought influencers who represent every caste, class and political background in the country.

Higher education around the world is crucially about knowledge generation, which at best of times is difficult because it requires questioning and dissent. Post-graduation institutes of national significance like the FTII, the IIM’s, NID, AIIMS etc cannot function like a bureaucracy or the police where orders are implemented without questioning, where compliance is expected and dissent is looked down upon. On the contrary, it is the duty of an art institute to inculcate this sense of questioning in its students.



(Photo: Facebook/FTIIWisdomTree)
(Photo: Facebook/FTIIWisdomTree)

The erosion of autonomy, growing bureaucratization and increasing outside interference in the universities in India has gone together. This is at the root of the present crisis in not just FTII but many (if not all) higher education centres of excellence in our country. And this is not just the current governments fault. Politicians, bureaucrats etc have been influencing, determining what happens in the field of education for decades. And that is what needs to change.

The debate for the last few weeks should have been a debate on autonomy, it has been anything but. We need to understand that Mr Chauhan and the other members of the FTII society aren’t the real problem. They are only symptomatic of the core issue.

(Photo: Facebook/FTIIWisdomTree)
(Photo: Facebook/FTIIWisdomTree)

Back on campus, as the long meeting comes to a close with a round of unhindered but tired laughter and as students disappear into their hostel rooms without a clear sense of what tomorrow might hold for them, the only thing that is evident is that the point of this strike hasn’t been to antagonize a government, or to crucify particular persons, or to shift the world on its axis, but, to change opinions and perspectives about higher education in our country, to demand our right to question, to say something about the times we live, and, maybe, just maybe, to find that what they’ve stood up for will speak to another moment in history.

India is the youngest country in the world. In the decades to come the number of 20-somethings here will outnumber total populations of countries. It is essential that any elected government in India pay very close attention to what its young are thinking, feeling and saying.

Mr. Minister, are you listening yet?

(Neha Sharma is a screenplay writing graduate from the 2012 batch of FTII)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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