Polluting The Pristine: Why FTII Protesters’ Self-Indulgence Makes Me Uncomfortable

Posted on June 15, 2015 in Campus Watch, Politics

By Abul Kalam Azad:

The time is ripe for the student protests to erupt across the campuses in the country. Ripe with repression of a ‘neo-fascist’ regime.

Recently, we had seen the proliferation of Ambedkar Periyar Study Circles in universities/colleges throughout the nation, following the now-rescinded, de-recognition of APSC in IIT Madras (Full disclosure: I am closely associated with these protests in IITM).

FTII chairman
Image Credit: Mayank Khurana

The most recent one being FTII students’ shutdown of their institute following the authoritarian appointment of Gajendra Chauhan, a person clearly not well versed with the field and more importantly, a BJP member, as the Chairman of FTII.

While I extend my sincere solidarity to students protesting this saffronisation, the rhetoric of self-indulgence surrounding these demonstrations (on social media, or otherwise) keeps tugging at my nerves. I am very uncomfortable with the uncritical eulogization of what their institute ‘stands for‘ and the ‘excellence‘ of the same that seem to clog such discourses. One gets the feel that this place was, previously, a haven of progressive ideals with liberating cinematic praxis. It is not difficult to conflate this protest into a defense of the institute and its values, rather than a larger struggle for democratization of inaccessible educational institutions. This unfortunate absence of any introspection on the politics of the place and the elitism (caste/class) of its pupils/chairman – unlike what APSC had done by questioning the structure of IITs, leaves me frustrated.

Like it or not, this manifests in the callous slogans – “Don’t pollute the FTII with your political garbage“- Pollute? Really? Political garbage? What will stop me from regarding this as a deliberate sacralisation of the space, not very different from the vocabulary of pollution embedded in the casteist reprimands? Why these oversights and, inadvertent or otherwise, insensitivity? And why the jargon of ‘merit‘? And also the kind of solidarity you will be able to garner (for, by and of upper castes). There’s a thick line between protesting on behalf of, and within, enclosed spaces and protesting for the opening of hitherto sealed places. Unfortunately, some of us are on the opposite side.

And there’s no hope for a future that can’t question its past. I wish you would look more closely at your history alongside your demands for an egalitarian future.

I say this because I sense the potential of this protest. I sense the palpitation of the saffron heart at the possibility of elite shielded institutions slowly breaking their walls of exclusion. I sense the inspiration that repressed students across the country could gather from sights of brave students shutting down their ‘temples of study’ and echoing, with zeal, demands for a just world.

I sense hope.
I sense freedom.

I hope you do too.