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Midnight crackdown at FTII: how proper was it to arrest protesting students?

Parth MN | Updated on: 20 August 2015, 13:16 IST

The events

  • On 18 August, FTII students reportedly gheraoed director Prashant Pathrabe for 7 hours
  • The students were looking to be assessed fairly
  • At midnight, the police arrested 4 students based on an FIR filed by Pathrabe

The complaint

  • FTII director Prashant Pathrabe named 17 students in the FIR
  • The charges include vandalising property, criminal intimidation and rioting

The issue

  • Students have been protesting since July over the appointment of actor Gajendra Chauhan as chairman
  • Early August, some students from the 2008 batch were asked to leave the hostel
  • The students\' projects were ordered to be assessed despite their work being incomplete, and despite ongoing protests

The students' protest at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, took a dramatic turn on the night of 18 August. The police barged into the campus a little before midnight and arrested four students.

They intended to arrest a few more protesting students. Two women, whose names figured in the FIR, weren't arrested. A few other students couldn't be arrested as their names had been misspelled in the complaint. The students were given bail on Wednesday evening, according to reports.

The sequence of events

The police acted on an FIR filed by FTII director Prashant Pathrabe. In the FIR, he has accused the students of forcibly detaining him in his office for around seven hours and of damaging the institute's property.

Pathrabe lodged the complaint around 10.30 pm. A little over an hour later, at 11.45 pm, the police arrived at the campus. The students were in no mood to give in without protesting and shouted slogans even while the police arrested the students named in the FIR.

The chaos subsided well after 1 am.

"This is extremely unfortunate...students are our responsibility. But nobody from the administration was there when the arrests were taking place," said Sandip Chatterjee, faculty member and acting dean at FTII.

Though the administration claim they are "aggrieved" at the arrests, students and faculty members view their words with skepticism. Students tried contacting people in the administration when the arrests were taking place, but nobody responded to their phone calls. No one came to the police station either.

Students tried contacting people in the administration when the arrests were taking place, but nobody responded

The students have been charged with obstructing a public servant from doing his duty, which is a non-bailable offence. The other charges levelled include vandalising property, criminal intimidation, rioting and unlawful restraint and assembly. Pathrabe has named 17 students in his complaint and alleged that 25-30 others were also involved.

Apparently, the students gheraoed Pathrabe on Monday during a meeting regarding the assessment of the 2008 batch.

The confrontation

Ranjit Nair, who is part of the FTII Students' Association (FSA), said that the ministry ordered the students' projects to be assessed despite their work being incomplete and without taking the protests on campus into account. Nair was one of the students arrested.

On 5 August, the director circulated a notice instructing students of the 2008 batch to vacate the hostel. After registering their dissent, he asked them to speak to the joint secretary, Information and Broadcasting ministry. "Nobody picked up the phone," said Nair. "He (the director) has been evading our questions for a long time. So we decided to gherao him. We needed answers."

The arrest warrant states that the students held the director captive from 3.30 pm till 11 pm and that he was only let go after police intervention. It further states that the students threatened the director that they would hold him hostage until the decision on the assessment was overturned.

"Students constantly insulted the director," reads the warrant. "In groups of 5-6, they kept bombarding him with different questions while chanting 'Narendra Modi murdabad, Arun Jaitley murdabad' causing him mental stress," it states.

The warrant accuses students of getting aggressive and vandalising the office by breaking down the glass of the main door, uprooting internet and telephone cables and damaging computers. "It has caused damages worth Rs 1.5-2 lakh," reads the warrant.

According to a faculty member, the matter escalated when the police intervened and beat up a couple of students

On Wednesday afternoon, Pathrabe held a press conference and justified the students' arrest. "I am still in a state of mental shock. It will take me a couple of days to come back to normal," he told reporters. "I had to take this unfortunate step as tolerating this kind of lawless behavior would have emboldened them further. There should be a deterrent."

However, Chatterjee, who was also gheraoed along with the director and registrar, said the students were "extremely peaceful". "They did not manhandle anyone," he said.

Police action

According to a faculty member who didn't want to be named, the matter escalated when the police intervened and beat up a couple of students. "The police were solely responsible for the destruction in the office," he said, adding that the timing of the FIR and the raid was "vindictive".

"Why did the police have to arrest students in the middle of the night? The whole day went by after the gherao. The FIR could have been filed anytime during the day," he said.

The faculty members held a meeting on Wednesday afternoon and condemned the incident. "The teachers of FTII condemn the manner in which the students were picked up by the police dead at night, in the absence of any senior members from the administration," reads the letter addressed to the Joint Secretary of the I&B ministry.

The students have been boycotting classes since 12 June and have been protesting against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as FTII chairman and the selection of Rahul Solapurkar, Shailesh Gupta, Narendra Pathak and Anagha Ghaisas in the FTII board. They claim that these individuals do not have the required competence to occupy these positions.

First published: 20 August 2015, 13:16 IST
Parth MN @catchhindi

Parth is a special correspondent with the Los Angeles Times. He has a degree in mass communication and journalism from Journalism Mentor, Mumbai. Prior to journalism, Parth was a professional cricketer in Mumbai for 10 years.