Caste scandal rift in Kerala filmdom
A film institute in Kerala named after India’s first Dalit President, K.R. Narayanan, has been witnessing a protest against caste discrimination allegedly at the behest of the director who has the backing of its chairperson and filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan.
The protest against caste discrimination faced by students and cleaning staff of the K.R. Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts in Kottayam entered its 16th day on Tuesday.
It has received solidarity from several noted filmmakers and film bodies but has been met with total silence from the education department of the Left Democratic Front that has limited its response to a department inquiry.
The institute has been accused of disregarding quotas while admitting students and also whittling down the reserved seats by including those who had anyway made it to the admission list on merit.
Reverberations of the students’ agitation were felt at the recently held International Film Festival of Kerala, 2022, where several film personalities expressed solidarity with the protest and called for an independent probe into the allegations of caste discrimination by the institute’s director, Shankar Mohan.
The protesters have resolved to continue their agitation until Mohan quits or the government sacks him. Adoor has also come under fire for openly supporting Mohan by dismissing all allegations, saying Mohan comes from a “noble family”.
The filmmaker had also rubbished the allegations levelled by the students, and women sweepers who have accused Mohan and his wife of forcing them to work at their home and even making them clean toilets with scrubbers and not the usual long-handle brushes.
Mohan has refused comment on the allegations.
Calls to his office by this newspaper did not fetch any response.
Filmmaker Jeo Baby, one of the cinema personalities who expressed solidarity with the students during the IFFK, on Monday withdrew his film Freedom Fight from the Happiness International Film Festival being held by the state government from December 19-21 in Kannur, protesting the decision to invite Adoor to inaugurate the event.
Institute Students’ Council chairman Sreedev Suprakash told The Telegraph on Tuesday that discontent had been simmering just months after Mohan took charge in 2019.
“He has been tweaking the system and sabotaging the caste-based reservation in admissions. A clear example is how all the 10 seats in the Film Direction course have been filled under general merit although five seats are reserved for various categories like OBCs, SCs, STs and EWS (Economically Weaker Sections),” he alleged.
He cited a letter written by the LBS Centre for Science and Technology, a state government undertaking that conducts entrance tests for various institutions including the film institute.
“After the LBS shortlisted 265 candidates this year, the institute chopped it down to 133 under some hitherto unknown internal cutoff marks,” Suprakash said.
The letter states that the LBS “representative has objected about the cut off marks since it is not included in the prospectus, also it may create complaints from candidates at a later stage”.
“The institute doesn’t even honour the rank list provided by the LBS and picks students based on its own orientation session and interview. That was how Sharath (a Dalit student) failed to get a seat although he was on the rank list,” Suprakash said.
Sharath recently joined the editing course at the Satyajit Ray film institute in Calcutta.
“We narrated our woes to the higher education minister (R. Bindu) back in September. But unfortunately we are facing total apathy from the LDF government,” lamented Suprakash.