Kerala film school strike: Kottayam collector once again orders temporary closure of KRNNIVSA

Invoking Section 81 of the Kerala Police Act, District Collector PK Jayasree ordered the institute closed till 15 January.

BySreerag PS

Published Jan 09, 2023 | 12:39 PMUpdatedJan 09, 2023 | 2:50 PM

Kerala film school strike: Kottayam collector once again orders temporary closure of KRNNIVSA

The controversies relating to the KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Sciences and Arts (KRNNIVSA) show no sign of dying down.

There appears to be no meeting ground between the students on one side, and the Kerala government, the institute’s management, and the district administration on the other.

Matters took a new turn late on Sunday, 8 January, when the district collector of Kottayam — where the institute, an autonomous body under the state government’s Department of High Education, is located — invoked Section 81 of the Kerala Police Act of 2012 and ordered the film school closed till 15 January.

This is the second time District Collector PK Jayasree closed down the institute.

Earlier, she ordered a shutdown on 24 December, a day before the students were to begin a hunger strike to press for their demand: The removal of KRNNIVSA Director Shankar Mohan, who is facing allegations of caste discrimination on campus.

‘Situation has not improved’

Kottayam District Collector PK Jayashree (Supplied)

In her order on Sunday, the collector said that, as per information gathered from the institute, she was not convinced about any “improvement” in the situation and ordered a continuation of the restrictions imposed on 24 December.

“…the students intend to resume their agitation and certain organisations outside the campus may also intervene to take advantage of the circumstances, potentially leading to a serious situation,” said her order.

“Whereas, I am reasonably convinced that the restrictive order issued vide reference cited should be continued in order to avoid a law and order situation affecting public peace and tranquillity on campus and in the surrounding locality,” it added.

Students back on campus

Students’ union chairperson Sreedev Suprakash told South First that the students were back on campus and attending academic workshops by renowned people from the film industry.

On Monday, a workshop on cinema was scheduled by the students’ union, where prominent filmmakers like Rajeev Ravi, B Ajith Kumar, and Sanju Surendran were supposed to address the students.

“We had a conversation with the district collector regarding the matter; she told us that she was asked by higher authorities in the government to give the order,” said Sreedev.

He stated that he was unaware of the intentions of the government, and that their calls to Minister for Higher Education and Social Justice R Bindu had gone unanswered.

The story so far

On 5 December 2022, the students of the KRNNIVSA initiated an indefinite strike to remove Shankar Mohan — the director of the institute — accusing him of caste discrimination against students and staff from marginalised communities.

“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 KR Narayanan, India’s former president from the Dalit community, who became the first citizen with his talent and determination,” said the students in a statement.

On 8 December, the institute cancelled the rooms booked for 52 students of the institute who had gone to attend the 27th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) in Thiruvananthapuram.

The students alleged that the cancellation of the booking without prior notice was because of the strike that had been going on at KRNNIVSA.

Following the allegations and accusations of discrimination against the management of the institute, South First interviewed noted filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who is also the chairperson of KRNNIVSA, regarding the issue.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan is the chairman of the film institute. (Sourced)

Adoor Gopalakrishnan is the chairman of the film institute. (Sourced)

He denied the accusations against Shankar Mohan and claimed: “Somebody’s dirty mind is operating behind all this (the controversies surrounding the institute).”

Adoor added that Mohan, an experienced and well-mannered person from a noble family, had been trying to revive and develop the institute and instil discipline in the students.

This remark ignited a controversy in Kerala and invited criticism against the filmmaker from the students of the institute, filmmakers, and also the general public. Some even accused him of “lying” and suggested that “upper-caste rationale” was at work.

Later on, during the IFFK — which was held from 9 to 16 December — several protests were held against Adoor Gopalakrishnan and the institute’s director.

Several people joined the protests including prominent figures in mainstream Malayalam cinema — Aashiq Abu, Kamal KM, Jeo Baby, Bijibal, Shahabaz Aman, Vidhu Vincent, Beena Paul, Prathap Joseph, and Sajitha Madathil, along with activist Sreeja Neyyattinkara.

Meanwhile, documents emerged for a public view showing discrepancies in the functioning of the institute and admissions to the institute.