Kerala film school strike: A year after extending Mohan’s term, government yet to find a new director

Students have meanwhile stepped up their agitation to oust Mohan, to go on hunger strike from Christmas day.

BySreerag PS

Published Dec 21, 2022 | 6:16 PMUpdatedDec 21, 2022 | 9:04 PM

Kerala film school strike: A year after extending Mohan’s term, government yet to find a new director

The government is yet to find a replacement for Shankar Mohan, the director of the Kottayam-based KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Sciences and Arts (KRNNIVSA), more than a year after he was asked to continue till a new director took charge.

In an order issued on 29 November 2021, the government gave Mohan an extension “till a new director is appointed”. The order did not specify any date on which his tenure would end.

Mohan was appointed for two years on 28 November 2019. The conditional extension was given when his term ended in November last year.

He could hold office for two more years since the retirement age for directors of autonomous bodies is 70. Mohan is now 68.

The institute was granted autonomous status in July 2021 based on its Governing Council’s recommendation.

A section of students and staff have accused Mohan of caste-based discrimination and forcing a few members of the cleaning staff to do menial jobs at his residence.

Interestingly, the State Department of Higher Education sent a letter addressed to Mohan on 25 January, 2022, saying those over 65 should not continue and should be replaced.


Shankar Mohan. (Sourced)

“According to the government order, not only in government organisations but also in all public sector organisations, including corporations and autonomous organisations under the control of the state government, the upper age limit for MD, Secretary, Director, and Chief Executive Officer has been revised to 65 years,” the letter addressed to the director, KRNNIVSA, said.

In an exclusive interview with South First (Students spreading blatant lies as allegations), the film institute’s chairman and legendary filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan said he had taken the initiative to bring Mohan as the director. He also said that there was no one as experienced as Mohan.

Institute mum on cleaning director’s residence

Gopalakrishnan also said there was nothing wrong with the institute’s sanitation staff cleaning the director’s house.

“See, it is a government building (the director’s residence). 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,” the filmmaker told South First during the interview.

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

Adoor Gopalakrishnan. (Sourced)

The sanitation workers said the house is located 10 km from the institute. They alleged inhuman treatment at the director’s residence.

“When we joined work, we were not told that we should also clean the director’s official residence 10 km from the campus,” a sanitation worker told South First.

The institute has assigned its sweepers departments and areas that have to be cleaned. The director’s residence is not included in the order issued on 10 October 2022.

The official order issued to casual sweepers listed the hostel blocks, and departments functioning in the Cinematography, Administrative and Acting blocks.

Students to go on hunger strike

Meanwhile, the Students Council of KRNNIVSA said they would go on hunger strike from Christmas, if their demands are not met by 24 December.

film students

Film institute students protesting at the main venue of IFFK. (KB Jayachandran).

In a statement issued on Wednesday, 21 December, the council said they would start the relay hunger strike. The students have been on strike since 5 December, demanding Mohan’s ouster.

The students alleged that the government is backing an “adamant” Gopalakrishnan. They asked if the government is looking for Rohit Vemulas to intervene in the issue.

Vemula, a Dalit PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad, committed suicide on 17 January 2016 after the varsity stopped paying him the monthly stipend and placed him under suspension along with four others. He was 26 at death.

An active worker of the Ambedkar Students’ Association, Vemula had raised several issues on campus.

A three-member enquiry commission set up by the higher education department to investigate the allegations visited the institute on Saturday and held talks with the students and staff.

The students alleged that the director was delaying the commission without deposing before it.

The council presented ‘evidence’ before the commission supporting the allegations.

The strike also found support during the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) that concluded in Thiruvananthapuram on 16 December. The institute had cancelled the rooms booked for first-year students, who arrived at the state capital to attend the festival.

Director Mohan did not respond to South First‘s phone calls.

South First has reported how the institute’s administration, during the admission process for 2021 and 2022, ignored the norms, leading to certain departments having students solely from the general category.

Even among the students who received admission from marginalised communities, many were already qualified for admission in merit seats.

Vacant seats meant for students from marginalised communities were also allotted to those from the general category.