Kerala film institute students question Adoor’s dismissal of caste bias on campus

In a letter addressed to veteran film director and KR Narayanan Institute chairman Adoor Gopalakrishnan, the students council questions Adoor’s allegations that the protesters’ interest lay in closing down the institute.
Adoor Gopalakrishnan
Adoor Gopalakrishnan
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The students council of the KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts (KRNNIVSA), an autonomous institution based in Kottayam, has released an open letter condemning veteran film director Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s dismissal of the caste discrimination allegations against the institute’s director Shankar Mohan. Several students of the institute, named after the country’s first Dalit President KR Narayanan, had launched an indefinite strike on December 5 seeking the removal of Shankar Mohan from the post. Adoor, who is also the chairman of the institute, however dismissed the allegations raised by the students and workers as fake and baseless.

The institute’s students council subsequently wrote an open letter to Adoor on December 12, Monday, asking him why he did not speak to the students when they had submitted a complaint to him earlier in writing. “Without even discussing the issue with the students, how can the chairman come to the conclusion that the allegations are fake? We didn’t receive a reply from you when we gave a detailed written complaint,” the letter read, further asking the filmmaker to explain what prompted him to claim that the protesting students’ intention was to close down the institution.

Responding to Adoor’s statement that there were no breaches in the process of admissions to reservation seats, the students council asked why there were only general students in the 2022 ‘Direction’ batch. “Why was the student Sharath denied admission when four SC/ST reservation seats were vacant? If he was not eligible as Shankar Mohan said, how did he get admission to the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute in Kolkata?” the letter asked.

The students also questioned Adoor’s statement that Shankar Mohan was from a ‘good family’. “How is one’s family stature an answer to the allegations raised against him?” the students council further queried.

Speaking to The Cue, Adoor Gopalakrishnan had claimed that all of the allegations raised by the protesting students and workers were fake, and that the protesters’ interest lay in closing down the institute. “I received a letter from the students council. None of the allegations mentioned in that are true. The sanitation workers’ allegations of caste discrimination are not true. Some people are insecure that they will lose their job and position because of their fault. This includes the staff, students, and some officers who are not interested in doing actual work. Their term will end in December, so to secure their jobs they are bringing up caste now,” he alleged.

The students council had started their protest a few days after five sanitation workers at the institute alleged that they were forced to do domestic work including cleaning toilets at Shankar Mohan’s private residence, in addition to the work they do at the institute, without any pay. 

Nikhil, an office clerk at the institute had written a complaint to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in September, explaining how he has been experiencing caste discrimination ever since Shankar Mohan took charge. He mentioned an incident in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he had to go to the director's house for official purposes. “He did not allow me to enter his house, while the other staff were invited inside. I was forced to do his household chores such as carrying gas cylinders and other work in front of my colleagues. He also always threatened me about not renewing my contract. I was denied the travel allowance that I am supposed to get when I travel to his house and the bank etc. for official purposes,” his complaint stated.

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