Iconic filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan defended the director of the KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Sciences and Arts (KRNNIVSA) and termed the allegations against him “blatant lies”.
A section of students and staff members of the Kottayam-based film school has accused the director, Shankar Mohan, of caste-based discrimination and forcing a few cleaning employees to do menial work at his residence.
“Somebody’s dirty mind is operating behind all this (the controversies surrounding the institute),” Gopalakrishnan, who is also the chairperson of KRNNIVSA, said in a telephonic interview with South First.
The filmmaker also said that Mohan, an experienced and well-mannered person from a noble family, has been trying to revive and develop the institute, and instill discipline in the students.
On the institute cancelling the rooms booked to accommodate first-year students attending the ongoing 27th International Film Festival of Kerala-2022, Gopalakrishnan asked: “Why should the institute provide accommodation for those students who are on strike?”
Edited excerpts from the interview:
SF: Are you aware of the students’ strike at the KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts?
Adoor Gopalakrishnan: Yes.
Q: The students have accused the institute’s director of caste-based discrimination.
A: They are lying. The institute did not have any discipline for the last six years but now it is a disciplined place. I took the initiative to bring Shankar Mohan as the director of the institute two-and-a-half years ago.
There is no person in the country as educated and experienced in cinema as Shankar Mohan. Now they want him to be removed at any cost. It is not just students who are involved in the matter. This time sweepers, too, have been brought in.
People say they are from scheduled castes and I don’t know about it. I don’t have to enquire about each person’s caste. There is nobody in the institute who would discriminate against anyone on casteist lines.
Q: Have you ever noticed any casteist action from Shankar Mohan?
A: I have not found him to be a casteist. He has not even lived in Kerala before. He was born and brought up in Delhi. His father is a senior officer and his mother has a PhD in social work from the US. He comes from such a noble family.
Shankar Mohan, too, is a person with all the necessary qualifications and is well-mannered. He is trying to develop and revive the institute.
The situation now is that if you say you are a Malayali, they (the film institutes) will not give you admission in Kolkata and Pune. They consider Malayali students as vazhakkali (troublemakers).
We are now understanding why Malayali students are not given admission to these places because they protest without any cause. I received a copy of the letter (by the Student’s Council), which was addressed to me.
I read the letter and if there were at least some truth to the claims I could have understood them. But these are blatant lies.
Q: Did you speak to the protesting students?
A: There are problems every day. Once I met three members of the KRNNIVSA Student’s Council. The director as well as the dean were with me. They then told me that they understood the situation and that all misconceptions have been cleared. But now, there are some other interests in this protest.
Q: Was your meeting with students on the issues they are now raising?
A: No, it was another issue. There is a background to this protest. During Covid-19, we acquired a building on rent and held classes separately for each batch because we didn’t want people’s time to be wasted.
Then four students said they were not interested in attending the classes if the hostels were not open. The rest of the students were attending the sessions, but these four people did not attend the classes for more than two months.
Naturally, they should be ousted as per the rules. Instead, they went to Minister Dr R Bindu, who had then just taken oath of office. She has so much goodness in her. These students told her their problems — but not the way they had told us.
Later, I also met the minister. I was told that the students had narrated their issues to the minister, and hence let there be no action against them. We reinstated the students, but it was a big mistake.
The decision to reinstate them is the primary reason for the unrest on the campus. It created such a situation that whatever these students do on campus, it will get sorted out if they go and meet the minister. It is repeating now.
One day, the students locked the institute from the inside, preventing anyone from entering the campus. If it is locked from the inside we cannot break it and enter, right? After locking the institute, they started speaking to the media. In a nutshell, they intended to oust the director.
The students think either he will resign or the government will ask him to leave if they make such trouble. But if a person like him leaves, the institute will be steeped in anarchy.
Earlier, due to bad management, students used to stay on campus even after the completion of their course. They were neither studying nor doing anything productive. They were just having a good time at the institute.
It is a terrible thing to happen. A student acting in such a way is sinning. They should be concerned about their parents. I think they don’t have any such concerns.
Even the current issues are not related to education. No such issues exist there. Although we are talking about what is happening on the KRNNIVSA campus, the media doesn’t like us telling the truth. They make the issue big and publish stories.
Q: There is also an allegation that the institute cancelled the rooms booked for students attending the film festival
A: What else can we do? Besides going on a strike, they have locked the gates, preventing anybody from entering the campus. I think this has been going on for four or five days.
Q: Was it the only reason the rooms were cancelled?
A: As they are on strike, the institute cannot do anything. Why should the institute provide accommodation to students who are on strike?
Similar to what the four students had done, the students once again met the minister. We told them (the minister’s office) that if the students are not participating in the strike, we can somehow arrange the rooms. But the minister said we could consider those issues later. She intends to please the students. But an institute cannot function by always pleasing the students. No institute could function without discipline.
Q: The sanitation workers have also alleged caste discrimination at the director’s residence. They also alleged that they have to travel 10 km to the director’s residence and they are often asked to cook food for the guests.
A: Never! See, it is a government building. The government provided that building to the director. Also, they (the sanitation workers) are not asked to go there every day. They merely have to go once a week to clean the house. I don’t know what exactly they do there but there is no slavery.
They were getting allowances for travelling to the residence. This man (the director) increased their salary from ₹5,000 to ₹8,000.
They (sanitation workers) are now saying that they were asked to clean toilets by their hand. Somebody’s dirty mind is operating behind all this. This has been shared with the media. So people will read only such news. They want to project Shankar Mohan as an evil person.
There are no scheduled caste people among the sweepers. All are from the so-called Nair caste and others. Also, I don’t think cleaning the premises of a government building is slavery.
The interview has been edited and condensed.