The workers have alleged that they were allowed to enter the house of director Shankar Mohan only after taking a bath and were asked to reveal their caste identity.

KR Narayanan Institute strikePhoto : Special Arrangement
news Caste Discrimination Wednesday, December 07, 2022 - 15:17

Sanitation workers of a film institute named after KR Narayanan, the country’s first Dalit President, has raised several allegations against its director including using them to clean toilets in his residence and caste discrimination. The institute has denied the allegations and said they are yet to receive any official complaints in this regard.

Nayana,* who works as a sweeper in KR Narayanan National Institute of Visual Science and Arts (KRNNIVSA), an autonomous institution under the Higher Education Department of Kerala government in Kottayam, says she along with three other colleagues were asked regularly to do household chores in the house of Shankar Mohan, the institute’s director.

They were asked to do cleaning work at the institute in the morning and after 10 am were asked to go to Shankar Mohan’s house by taking turns. According to the workers, they never had the courage to question this until students of the institute allegations of caste discrimination against him. They were hired as contract workers and were paid Rs 6,000 every month for working from 8am to 1pm.

“There are five employees in the sweeper post and four of us are asked to go to his house for cleaning. The remaining one person belonged to Dalit community, so she wouldn’t be called. Taking turns, the two of us would be going a day. We will be allowed inside only after taking a bath and changing our clothes. Initially, the director’s wife used to ask us what caste we belonged to. When we named our caste they kept on asking whether it belonged to lower status,” Nayana alleged.

“The worst part is that we are not allowed to clean their toilets using a brush. We were asked to clean it using a small scrubber with our hands. That was really difficult. Moreover their home is located in a place with no regular buses. We were given Rs 100 every day as our bus fare. Since there is no bus we would get an auto rickshaw which would cost us around Rs 300. We work as  domestic helpers in other houses to make up for this,” she added.

Another employee Divya,* told TNM that they were threatened of being fired from their jobs unless they do the household work at Shankar Mohan’s house. “We were hired to do the cleaning works at the institute. But after we joined they asked us to go to the director's house. Initially they said on the days we do cleaning work at the house we would be spared from working at the institute. But later it changed and we had to work in both places. At his house we have to work about six hours and it's hectic. Still we don’t get any payment for the domestic work. If we complain they issue threats of sacking,” Divya alleged. They did not give a written complaint to the institute fearing loss of jobs and instead complained to the Chief Ministers and State Women's Commission.

According to her, every time they were at Shankar Mohan’s house, they asked questions to make sure they were not Dalits. “We felt really offended when they kept on asking us our caste and also made us clean ourselves before entering their house,” she said.

On December 5, a group of students led by the institute’s Student Council began an indefinite strike protesting against Shankar Mohan by not attending classes.

“Sanitation workers of the Institute are forced to do domestic work at the Director’s house and have faced caste discrimination like untouchability. Another person who works as a clerk at the institute also had faced severe caste discrimination. During the admission time of the 2022 batch, a student from Dalit community named Sharat was denied admission in the editing department despite four seats out of the total 10 being available,” alleged Kiran KR, representative of Student Council.

The students said as per a government order in January 2022, the director of the KRNNIVSA shouldn’t be more than 65 years. But Shankar Mohan is 68-years-old. “He continued in the post illegally. It has clearly mentioned in the order that in the public sector institutions, those who hold the position shouldn’t be more than 65 years,” Kiran alleged.

A postgraduate in ‘Screenplay writing & Film Direction’ from FTII, Pune, Shankar Mohan has worked in the Malayalam film industry as writer, actor, director and distributor for over a decade. He has also served as director at the Directorate of Film Festivals.

The students also allege that many appointments were done in the institute without following proper rules. “People were appointed in the posts of Dean, production controller and art director without issuing any notification regarding the recruitment. The new students of 2022 batch were forced to sign an indemnity bond containing several demeaning clauses that hinders personal freedom and student rights,” said a press note from student council.

KRNNIVSA has denied the allegations against the institute’s director. “We haven’t received any official complaint from any of the staff who spoke to the media. These all are a part of propaganda by certain people and they have misguided students too. Apart from the director there are many officers here with whom they could have raised the complaint but they haven’t done that. Since we are holding discussions with the ministry, we haven’t yet released an official reaction,” said a spokesperson from the institute. TNM tried to contact Shankar Mohan, the director of the institute, for his response on the allegations but could not reach him. 

*Some names have been changed to protect the identity of employees.

 

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