A film institute in Kerala, named after the first Dalit President of India KR Narayanan, is currently witnessing days-long protests by students who have accused the institute's director Shankar Mohan of indulging in caste discrimination.
Mohan took charge of the KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts, Kottayam, as director in 2018. The institute's chairperson and legendary filmmaker, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, came out in support of Mohan, terming the allegations against him "baseless" and "fake."
What are the allegations? There are two major accusations against Mohan – one concerning the sanitation workers and the other concerning the students.
What is the accusation by the workers? The sanitation workers have alleged that even though they had been hired to work at the institute, they were forced to go to the director's house to clean the toilet and carry out other domestic chores. They weren't paid for this additional work.
Before they were deputed to this work, all of them were allegedly asked what their castes were. Out of the five sanitation workers, four had to take turns visiting Mohan's house, which is at a considerable distance from the institute. They also had to take a shower before they were allowed to enter the house. The fifth worker wasn't asked to visit the house because they belonged to a Dalit community.
What about students? The students, meanwhile, have accused the institute of not following reservation norms. They allege that a Dalit student, Sarath S, was denied admission to the Editing course despite being qualified. In the Direction course, all 10 seats were given to General Category students, they claimed. Further, the food provided to students is not subsidised, and isn't affordable to many.
What is the protesters' demand? The students are demanding that the institute director, Shankar Mohan, be fired from his position.
Adoor Gopalakrishnan shows support to Mohan: When The Quint reached out to the filmmaker, he refused to comment on the matter. However, while speaking to The Cue earlier, Gopalakrishnan had dismissed all the issues raised by protesters, claiming that their allegations were baseless and that they wanted to close down the institute. Reportedly, he had also stated that Mohan was "from a good family."
Other filmmakers stand by protesters: Jeo Baby, the director of The Great Indian Kitchen, withdrew his new film Freedom Fight from the Happiness International Film Festival in Kannur, a Kerala government initiative, in protest against the organisers inviting Gopalakrishnan to inaugurate the event. Other filmmakers such as Aashiq Abu, Mahesh Narayanan, and Kamal also have expressed their support for the protests.
Has the government taken any action? The Kerala government has set up a panel to investigate the charges against the institute administration. According to The News Minute, R Bindu, state minister for higher education, has assured that the concerns raised by the students would be addressed fairly.
(With inputs from The Cue, The News Minute.)