Five students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) were attacked in the premises of the National Film Archives of India (NFAI) Pune on Wednesday, 21 August by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

The attack took place soon after the screening of filmmaker Anand Patwardhan’s documentary Jai Bhim Comrade and the performance of Kabir Kala Manch at NFAI. The programme was organized by the FTII student’s body in association with Yugpath, a youth forum based in Pune. This was the first public performance of Kabir Kala Manch after two and a half years.

Two of the FTII students recount the incident.

For nearly three months now, a few students from NLSIU Bangalore have been working on a concept of a festival ambitiously named Kranti. Rooted in an academic space where conferences implied academic discussions over positivistic legal issues, we decided to commit ourselves to a conference that would curate the politics of dissent which are setting powerful but invisible undertones of India’s political processes. We wanted to replace academics who would speak of peoples’ movements with grassroot organizers who would share their experiences. Reclaiming Dissent was how we succinctly put the spirit behind Kranti.

Our audience was to be urban students who, like ourselves, were born into a ‘liberalised’ India and the object was to encourage us to question the received wisdom about what constitutes politics – shift the focus away from electoral politics to peoples’ movements. Over the weeks of work that went into thrashing out the idea of the conference we realised it was impossible to begin speaking of reclaiming dissent by narrowing our conversation to a conference. The concept of Kranti evolved rapidly; what it became was a result of the documentaries we had watched, the songs we’d sung and the internships we’d experienced. The politics of dissent, we had come to realize, had a rich tradition in this nation, a tradition that we had grown up entirely unaware of.

Driven by this realization, we started to reach out to students in different cities. We travelled to Mysore, Bombay and Pune and started speaking to the students we knew. The germ of an idea was in our experience of a powerful screening of Jai Bhim Comrade with Anand Patwardhan in Bangalore in July, 2012. We also wanted to subvert the idea of mass-mobilisation of students a la Anna Hazare, that revolution could never have been built over the course of a few months but would require years of conversations. We wanted to say that it was possible to stitch together a loose coalition of students across the country who would be open to setting up documentary screenings, discussions and street theatre and compel student audiences to respond to the ideas we sought to throw up.

Over the course of the last few weeks, we have confirmed screenings of a variety of political films in colleges in Bombay, Pune, Mysore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Cuttack, Jodhpur, Kolkata and Bangalore.

By early August, we confirmed what would be our biggest coup till then – a platform called the Songs of Protest where we would bring together artists like Sambhaji Bhagat, Makkal Mandram and Kabir Kala Manch. We started sharing this news with the students who had already begun to show solidarity with the efforts of Kranti when Sahil Bhattad, one of the members of a Pune-based youth platform called Yugpath, jumped at the opportunity. In the ensuing days, the FTII Students’ Association and Yugpath moved rapidly and set up a screening of Jai Bhim Comrade with Anand Patwardhan, followed by the first public performance of Kabir Kala Manch in the city after being accused of participating in Naxal activities. What is critical to note was that in the cultural capital of Maharashtra, it was not the rich array of artistic platforms that extended this support to the Kabir Kala Manch but a loose alliance between student groups who are not politically affiliated with any party.

The event was declared for the 21st of August, 2013. On the morning of the 20th, we woke up to a deeply disturbing report from Pune – the assassination of Dr. Narendra Dabholkar. Even as we began to put our thoughts into order, few of us wondered whether right wing parties would stoop to the political opportunism of declaring a bandh in response to this act of violence. We watched, aghast, as they lived down to our expectations. Frantic calls between Bangalore and Pune lead to a single, solemn resolve – we would go ahead with the event in defiance of this call for bandh. Of all things, we wouldn’t allow fascists to lay a claim on the man’s memory.

Numerous reports have been put out about the manner in which the day panned out. The moment we heard about the confrontation, we packed our bags left for Pune. Even as we write this note, numerous drafts of the statements of FTII association, Yugpath as well as Kranti are being hammered out.  Whereas Pune has seen incidences in the past where ABVP’s threats were taken seriously enough to cancel screenings of Jashn-e-Azadi, here was a moment where students refused to buckle down under the pressure of the impunity with which these fascist organizations operate. True, this had to come at the cost of physical assaults; but the tide of these anti-democratic forces must be stemmed and they must be stemmed now. Students across the country have been assaulted.

Attacks on girls in pubs, cancellation of screenings of political documentaries like Jashn-e-Azadi, assaults on couples who choose to enter inter-religious relationships, vandalism iAdd Median churches and mosques; all of these constitute different chapters in the narrative of right-wing fascism. This is a narrative that has long gone unchallenged. We, the youth of today, must speak up lest we be guilty of complicity.

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Link to event:

Prem Ayyathurai and Sahana Manjesh




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