On Monday, 5 December, the students’ council of the KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Sciences and Arts in the Kottayam district of Kerala announced that the students were going on an indefinite strike accusing the Institute Director Shankar Mohan of caste discrimination against the students and staff from marginalised communities.
The students’ council in its statement said it was ironic, given that the institute was named after former Indian President Dr KR Narayanan, who hailed from a Dalit caste.
“The heinous discriminatory actions by Shankar Mohan, Director of KRNNIVSA, against students and staff on the basis of caste is inhumane and cruel. It is quite ironic that the institute is named after Dr K R Narayanan, India’s former president from the Dalit community, who became the first citizen with his talent and determination,” the statement read.
The students also condemned the caste-based discrimination and said Shankar Mohan continuing in the post would demean the integrity of the institution.
They also said they would go on an indefinite strike demanding the resignation of the institute director.
The autonomous institute is located in Kottayam District and was established by the government of Kerala. It falls under the Higher Education Department of the state.
The institute was inaugurated by Hamid Ansari, the former vice-president of India, on 11 January, 2016.
‘Breeding ground for caste discrimination’
“We are on strike demanding the resignation of the institute director. Since his appointment, there have been numerous instances of caste discrimination,” said Ashfaque, a cinematography student at the KRNNIVSA.
“In my class itself, a student left the course as he was denied the SC/ST grants that are provided to pay the hostel and mess fees,” he added.
“The institute has become a breeding ground for such casteist, anti-Dalit, anti-student discrimination from the authority, led by the director,” stated the students’ council in its statement.
Ashfaque also stated that Sarath, a Direction & Screenwriting aspirant from a Dalit community, was denied admission at the institute even as several seats were left vacant.
Later, he moved the court to challenge the institute’s decision, demanding proper conduct of the admission process and reservation policy and received a favourable interim order.
The students’ council chairperson Sreedev told South First: “In every department, there are 10 students, but the number of students from marginalised communities is very less. In the ‘Direction’ department, all 10 students are from the general category.”
He also stated that earlier this year, four students were expelled from the institute without any valid reasons and the students went on a strike that led Kerala’s Higher Education Ministry to intervene and overturn the arbitrary decision by the institute.
Even sanitation worker alleges discrimination
South First spoke to Dhanya, a daily-wage sanitation worker at the institute. She also made serious allegations against the institute’s director.
She explained that although her shift was between 8 am to 1 pm, she along with her colleagues are asked to travel to the director’s official residence — which is 10 km away from the institute — at 10 am and clean the house and its premises.
“Once we complained to the PA to the director, saying we could not go to his residence and clean the place. Then, we were threatened by the director that we would be sacked if we could not do it,” said Dhanya.
She also narrated the caste-based discrimination she and her colleagues had to face while working at the institute.
“When I initially went to his residence, the director’s wife asked about my caste. Then she asked me to bring extra clothes when coming to clean the house, and to take bath before starting my work there.”
Dhanya also alleged that she and her colleagues were asked to clean the toilets with handheld scrubbers, and that they were not allowed to use a toilet-cleaner brush.
Although this was said by the director’s wife, Dhanya said: “Director sir watched all of it and was aware of everything. However, he did not speak against it.”
She added: “When guests like Adoor Gopalakrishnan visit the director’s residence, we are asked to prepare rice and curry. We have to do all work and they claim it is part of the ‘institute’s work’ and do not get any penny for the extra work we do. Among us, only I can speak out. Since my colleagues are widows, they can lose their jobs if they complain, and don’t have anywhere to go.”
The students met the state’s Higher Education Minister R Bindu on Tuesday and discussed the matter in detail.
Following an earlier complaint, the ministry had already set up a commission to study the matter and further decisions were expected to be made once the commission submitted its report.
South First’s calls to Mohan Shankar were unanswered.