Agitating students of Film and Television Institute of India on Wednesday accused the government of resorting to all kinds of measures, including "character assassination" of students, in order to dilute their demand for removal of actor Gajendra Chauhan as head of the Institute, instead of addressing the real issues.
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, a group of students said they were being treated as "left-overs" and had been called "anti-nationals" and even "anti-Hindus" and said they would continue the stir, which entered the 55th day on Wednesday, with the "limited resources and energy" they have.
"It is extremely disheartening to see that a government run institute is being questioned by the government itself and students are being character assassinated left, right and centre," FTII students association president Harishankar Nachimuthu said.
A "Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh mouthpiece" has even said the students were mentally challenged, he claimed.
"People who are associated with government in various ways have resorted to these means to question the students and by not answering the fundamental question, they are trying to divert the attention to something else," Nachimuthu added.
The students also took strong exception to remarks by Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore in in Rajya Sabha, where he had mentioned about reported incidents of faculty or employees being threatened, late-night parties, theft of valuable equipment, damage to properties by students.
"Is this the argument government is giving in its defence to the questions parliamentarians are raising?" Nachimuthu asked.
Wondering if this was the way government looks at "trivial" matters, the FTII students association president asked, "Isn't Parliament the right platform to debate larger issues such as questions regarding the needs of institute and how it should shape up in future?"
When asked if Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi's visit to the institute had politicised the matter, Nachimuthu said students had written to various members of Parliament and clarified that they would welcome Rathore too if he were to visit the campus to try and resolve their issues.
They said that while they kept reading media reports about government being open for a dialogue, no one had actually approached them, despite repeated letters from their side.
When asked as to how long they would continue their agitation if the government did not remove Chauhan, a student Vikas said while they have "limited resources and energy" they would still stick to their demands.
The students also expressed concern over the administrative action being taken saying notices have been issued that if they don't attend classes there would be expulsions. Contract faculty has been told if students don't call off the strike, they would be removed, the students said.
They also claimed that a first information report had been registered against six students alleging that they had threatened the staff.
"It is baseless... we are not doing anything by taking law into our hands but (are doing) only within all possible democratic ways," Nachimuthu said.
The students' association claimed that they were also asked to move out of their lodging place in Delhi on Tuesday, only because of their protest against the government's move to appoint Chauhan.
"The government and the administration are resorting to all these measures to dilute the issue," Nachimuthu said.
The students also reiterated their demand on composition of the film institute's council saying it should have members who are filmmakers, academicians and members of bureaucracy and that norms for appointment should be transparent.
"The issue is not just about appointments in the FTII but strike is in context of similar such appointments which have been reflected in other educational institutions," Nachimuthu said.
He added the students had got much support from student organisations, artists, filmmakers, academia and parliamentarians across party lines but the government hasn't opened any channel of communication.
He said questions were repeatedly being raised about the FTII's relevance and why taxpayers should spend so much money on running it.
"I hope government clearly understands that the FTII is an educational institution and students here have come with a very clear understanding that we have been scheduled to be trained to become filmmakers who have independent voices, thoughts and express concerns of the society... By labeling these students as anti-nationals... what kind of message is being conveyed?" he asked.
Another FTII student Reema said that many of them had left lucrative jobs to take up the courses and their priority was to study cinema in a qualitative manner. Therefore, it was important that people in charge have strong academic and artistic credentials, she said.