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How a Wheelchair User Student Fought for Accessibility at Pune's FTII

Student claimed she had low attendance due to inaccessible infrastructure at FTII; institute refutes claim.

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“I have faced challenges at every step of the way, in every building here,” said Rachaittri Gupta, a student of Editing at the Film Department of Pune's Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). The 34-year-old is a wheelchair user, who was enrolled in the 2020 batch at the prestigious institute.  

A week ago, she found out that due to “inadequate attendance,” the FTII administration had decided that she should join the 2022 batch, vacate the hostel premises, and re-pay the fee to join the 2022 batch in July this year.

Gupta alleged that the reasons behind her low attendance are infrastructural issues at the FTII, and later an illness that kept her away from classes for around seven months. "I requested that I join the 2021 batch since the batch is currently in the part of the curriculum where I left off,” Gupta told The Quint

On 13 March, the FTII student body halted their course for a week and demanded that she be enrolled in the 2021 batch.

Student claimed she had low attendance due to inaccessible infrastructure at FTII; institute refutes claim.

FTII students protest on campus. 

(Accessed by The Quint) 

Things seem to have taken a turn for the better with the academic coordinator informing Gupta that her request to join the ongoing 2021 batch has been accepted. 

The Quint spoke to Gupta about accessibility and its importance at educational institutions, her own journey, and struggles. The Quint also spoke to FTII’s Registrar and a student association member about the infrastructure on campus.
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'Could Not Pursue Acting or Dancing After My Accident Seven Years Ago' 

Gupta injured her spine after she had a fall from a balcony seven years ago. Her lower body is paralysed. Originally from Delhi, she has a background in classical dance and acting. She said, “I wanted to become an actor but since I could not pursue it, I decided to do a film editing course because I wanted to be part of the same industry.”   

Her admission took place in 2020 and her course started in 2021 because of the pandemic. A few classes took place online in 2021 and the course began full-fledged when students attended classes physically from April 2022.   

Gupta said;

I had joined the institute with high hopes. I faced a setback due to an accident seven years ago. I have already lost a lot of time. I can't start over... I might as well just give up.
Rachaittri Gupta

'The Lifts Were too Small for Wheelchair, There Were No Ramps in Hostel'

Gupta recalled her first few days on campus. She claimed, “I entered the hostel and saw that there was a small step in order to enter the room, and one to enter the washroom too. Even a small step meant that I would not be able to go in with my wheelchair. I informed the institute about my needs during my interview. So, I requested them to build ramps. That was done but the ramps were so steep that I needed the help of a friend every time I had to enter or leave the room.”   

Student claimed she had low attendance due to inaccessible infrastructure at FTII; institute refutes claim.

There were times when she missed her practical classes because they were on the second floor of certain buildings.

(Accessed by The Quint) 

To get to her classes, she would have to cross a road every day. She said, “Since the roads are rickety and there were broken speed bumps, the wheels in my wheelchair would clash with obstacles every day. One day, the wheels broke. I had to stay in for a few days until I could arrange a new wheelchair.”   

Gupta also alleged that there were times she missed her practical classes because they were on the second floor of certain buildings. She said;

The elevator was too small for the wheelchair to fit in, I used to remove a few spare parts in order to get in. For a few days, I missed classes because the elevator was not working. On other occasions, my professors ensured that I was carried up on the wheelchair with the help of a few boys.
Rachaittri Gupta
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The students’ association said in a statement, “A lot of construction was undertaken only after she came to the institute when students stressed on her urgent needs. That the institute has not been able to be inclusive of differently-abled persons is in itself a huge failing.”   

The institute, however, refuted these claims regarding the infrastructure. The FTII Registrar, Sayyid Rabeehashmi told The Quint, “FTII does not lack the necessary infrastructure to meet the academic requirements of students who use wheelchairs. Labs, classrooms, and classroom theatres at the institute are accessible. In certain cases, where modification of buildings is not advised due to structural reasons, the concerned departments ensure that classes and such facilities are on the ground floor or accessible.”   

'Had to Take Leave for Treatment After Falling Sick'

In July 2022, Gupta got bedsores, due to which she was taken to a hospital in Pune, with the help of the institute. She required surgery and so her parents took her back to Delhi for treatment.

Student claimed she had low attendance due to inaccessible infrastructure at FTII; institute refutes claim.

Gupta returned to Delhi for her treatment in August.

(Accessed by The Quint) 

It took some time for the surgery, after which I was bedridden for months. Throughout the process, I was in touch with my professors. They told me that we would figure everything out once I recovered.
Rachaittri Gupta

Gupta said that when she returned to campus on 5 February this year, she and her father had a meeting with the professors. “Nothing had been planned in the period when I was gone. I thought that a course of action would have been charted out. I told my dean that I could catch up with 2021 students as they are at the same place in the course where I left off. I wouldn’t need a semester break and would do my best to catch up with the course curriculum.”   

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After a Long Fight, FTII Administration Allows Her to Join the 2021 Batch 

About Gupta's request to join the 2021 batch instead of the 2022 batch, an internal meeting was held on 16 March. At the time, a member of the students' association had told The Quint, “In the agenda of the meeting contains a proposal that since it is impossible for her to continue with the 2020 or 2021 batches and she will have to vacate the hostel and start over with the newest batch that will start classes in July this year. She will also be needed to pay the fees again.”    

Meanwhile, the FTII Registrar told The Quint, “Students not having adequate credits cannot sit for the next semester. In the case of the student who is a wheelchair user, she was absent in classes due to illness which has led to a lack of credits.” He added that the Academic Council and the Governing Council are the bodies to take the decision of re-admission of students who fail to earn the required credits.   

After the students protested for a week, the meeting was in favour of Gupta. On 20 March, she told The Quint,  

I received a mail yesterday welcoming me to the 2021 batch. This means that my classes will begin soon. There is still no clarity on whether I will have to pay tuition fee again or not but I am glad that things are finally happening.

After an eight-month-long hiatus, she would be attending classes again.

She said, "I am excited that things are finally falling into place. We had to struggle a lot and it is probably because of the pressure from the student union that the administration finally took a positive step. The students came together and halted their course for a week. The student association has always helped whenever we face any issues." 

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