‘Ready To Quit’: Director Accused of Caste Bias at Kerala Film School

Though the institute has been temporarily closed, the students haven't been evicted from the institute hostel.

‘Ready To Quit’: Director Accused of Caste Bias at Kerala Film School
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Cowed down by protests at KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts (KRNNIVSA) the Director of the institute Shankar Mohan has expressed his willingness to quit. It has been 46 days since students of KRNNIVSA at Thekkumthala near Kottayam, Kerala, started their protest

Meanwhile, a report by a two-member committee, to look into the issues raised by the students of the Kerala state-run institute has, reportedly, found merit in some of their complaints against the institute’s Director Mohan.

"If the findings of the inquiry report as reported by media is true, then I will be very disappointed. I've done my job. My conscience is clear. Casteism is just not in my DNA. I am ready to quit. I did so much for the benefit of the students but if they are unhappy, then what's the point of me continuing here?" 
Shankar Mohan, Director, KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts to The Quint

Media reports suggested that the inquiry report found Mohan's involvement in discrepancies in the allotment of seats based on the reservation policy, but it isn't clear if the allegations of caste discrimination were validated.


Meanwhile, the students who began protesting on 5 December 2022, have launched a campaign – ‘Art of Protest' – to resume academic activities on their own even while continuing their strike.

The Quint spoke to students, staff, and the director of the institute to understand the controversy.

Protest held at SRFTI, Kolkata campus in solidarity with KRNNIVSA strike against the director Shankar Mohan.

(Image: Students of KRNNIVSA)

Workers Allege They Faced Caste Discrimination

Sanitation workers have alleged that even though they were hired to work at the institute – a 10-acre campus that includes 55 rooms and 36 bathrooms – they were forced to go to the director's house to clean the toilet and carry out other domestic chores.

Mala* (name withheld to protect her identity), who has been working at the institute for over a year told The Quint, “After the 8 am to 12 pm work hours, we are made to work an extra hour at college for which we are not paid for. We were asked to mention our castes and told to take a shower before entering the house."

"His wife told us to clean the bathrooms with just a scrubber and didn't give us a brush or a broom. We asked for gloves, to which she said, 'This is our bathroom so that's okay'."
Sanitation Worker

She alleged that when they raised the issue with the management, they were told by their manager to refrain from doing so, as the director had warned that they would be sacked immediately.

The director, however, refuted the allegations. “I've not received any complaints till date. There are so many systems for redressal of complaints but they didn't explore any of these options and went straight to media. This shows a clear agenda that people with vested interests have driven this,” he said.


Discrepancies in Reservation

The LBS Centre is responsible for preparing the list of eligible student candidates for taking admissions in the institute. While they prepared a list of 265 candidates for the academic year 2022-'23, the institute pruned this list to 133. 

In the allotment list for the Animation and VFX Department, the mandatory reservation for persons with disability was not followed. While the admission was completed, only nine out of 30 reserved seats were filled, said the students. They alleged e-grants were also denied to Dalit students.

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

The director, however, refuted the allegations. Mohan had earlier told media persons that he was not aware of the technicalities of reservation because the admission procedure was done by LBS. He elaborated that, “The entire admission process is done by a government agency. Even if we have made a mistake, we are open to corrections. We believe in the reservation policy stated in the Constitution.”


Management Blames 'Conspiracy'; Government Waits for Report 

Mohan called the ongoing protests a ‘conspiracy.’ He claimed that he realised one security guard, who is an ex-serviceman, was selling liquor on campus.

“I found 17 bags of empty liquor bottles and told the security officer to leave. So he must have colluded with others to hatch a conspiracy against me. He had instigated the sanitary worker to speak against me,” he said. Reportedly, the chairman of the institute Adoor Gopalakrishnan had also claimed that this was the issue that snowballed into a controversy.

Several members of the film fraternity have extended support to the students. 

(Image: Students of KRNNIVSA)

Meanwhile, the state government is expected to soon take a decision based on the report submitted by the two-member committee appointed by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

They have collected details from the students, teachers, and non-teaching staff of the institute, its governing council members and others.  

Higher Education Minister R Bindu told reporters on Tuesday, “Government will take a decision, including the possibility of removing the director only after receiving this report.”

Members of the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) showing their solidarity with the protest.

(Image: Students of KRNNIVSA)


Students Chart Their Own Academic Year

Since the institute has been temporarily closed, all classes have been suspended. Even as the students voice their strong protest, they are organising classes and sessions.

Directors such as Rajiv Ravi, Sanju Surendran, Jeo Baby, Ashiq Abu, Krishnendu Kalesh, Kamal KM, Amal Neerad, and actor Sujith Shankar, have taken special classes for the students. Even Punjabi film director Gurvinder Singh taught the students in an online session.

Director Amal Neerad was denied entry to the campus and so he stood outside the gate and interacted with the students.

(Image: Students of KRNNIVSA)

“Even while we continue our strike, we are ensuring that our education is going on because we are responsible for our own future; and the management doesn't seem to care. They didn’t even give us permission to conduct these sessions on campus and so we have been hiring auditoriums nearby for the classes,” said Jithin, a student of the institute.

The students shared in an Instagram post that they have come to a stage where they need financial support to be able to conduct these sessions and manage the protests. 


Director/Cinematographer Rajeev Ravi, Director/Editor B. Ajith Kumar, Director Sanju Surendran interacted with the students of KRNNIVSA.

(Image: Students of KRNNIVSA)

The band 'Oorali' held a special performance to garner support for the students' protest.

(Image: Students of KRNNIVSA)


Activist Maitreyan and the band members of 'Oorali' interacting with the students.

(Image: Students of KRNNIVSA)

Activist Maitreyan and Oorali band were also part of the 'Art for Protest.'

Meanwhile, director Vipin Das expressed solidarity with the students’ protests while speaking at the Kerala Legislature International Book Fair (KLIBF) organised by the Assembly as part of its library’s centenary and the ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ celebrations. Members of Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) including actors Parvathy Thiruvoth, Archana Padmini, Jeeva K J, and Remya Sarvada Das, too expressed their solidarity with the students.

However, the director of the institute said, "Not a single filmmaker has reached out to me to find out my side of the story. Youth and students are bound to rebelious. But unfortunately, they have been misled with the wrong cause based on caste."

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