Sunday, 3 November 2013

Ragging in SRFTI: The sad state of film schools

This November its going to be a year since I joined the institute. What happened here before any learning of cinema was ragging. I had written about it here, in Malayalam. Now the new batch is going to come and they are already being ragged and I am sure they will be in future also. I believe ragging is a blatant violation of human rights and is a crime. I am going to paraphrase the article in English here.

Classes started on 26th November 2012. There was a welcoming ceremony and a dinner by the institute. Soon after the dinner started ragging. The seniors were seated in a dark corner which now all of us know is the open air theatre aka OAT and were asking us to do various acts. Ragging is a process in which seniors of an educational institution asks the juniors there to perform acts and abuse them according to their whims. In the OAT I was asked to say 'action' aloud standing on the benches, was abused and was asked to go the hostel. In the hostel is the terrace where the elaborate and extended version of ragging was happening. The terrace which I call the terrace is called the 'ragging terrace' by all due to this reason. There ragging would continue till 6 or 7 in the morning or later. I didn't go there the first day. I had no intention to on any of the days which followed.

During those days the girls were allotted a quarter in the staff block. I noticed that the next night there were two day scholars also staying there. When I asked them why that was they said that the seniors had told them that they had to stay back for ragging. I found all this very absurd and silly. I didn't go that night either. But soon came my batchmates asking me to go get ragged. They said the seniors had said that unless the whole of our batch was present in the terrace they would not cease ragging. My bathcmates' tone was soon shifting from desperate to impatient to demanding to arrogant. One of them asked me why it was such a huge problem for me when all others were ready to be ragged. After half an hour of this and more bullshit I said I shall show my face for five minutes and return.

It was too cold in the terrace. I couldn't talk properly because my teeth were chattering so. There a lot of people were watching the fun from floors above. I was texting and talking to my friend and was asked to switch my phone off. When I refused to do this they started showering more abuses on me than before. One of them came very close to me and said that this would have serious consequences. I no longer could make out anything which was being said because nobody completed any of their sentences. It was all threatenings which would be overlapped with swear words.

Meanwhile others were being questioned on the 'hot chair', being asked to hold the boom rod which was a mop, to roll the camera (a fire extinguisher) etc.

I walked out of there.
That was the beginning of it all.

The whole of that night my bathcmates were sent to D quarters in intervals of five minutes where I was trying to sleep. The seniors were sending the message that if I refused to go back and get ragged there would be serious consequences.

I refused to go. My own batchmates started holding me responsible for the fact that they were getting ragged mercilessly. During those days nobody would talk to me. I called the registrar and the HOD of the department of Direction and Screenplay Writing to report ragging. No action was taken. The next day a group of faculty and the registrar came to our class to ask if our batch was facing any problems. A lot of people said they were. I myself was surprised. Then a register with names and photos of seniors was given to us to identify the raggers. With the names of five people I could recognise I gave a complaint. Action was taken. 8 students were suspended and expelled from hostel temporarily. An enquiry committee was set up and we were all asked to testify. As a result of that two were permanently suspended from hostel. Strict warning was given to the rest. This report came out in the media. This too they said was done by me when in reality I had no clue who wrote it. Nobody had contacted me while doing so.

When all this was going on I was constantly being asked to withdraw my complaint by a lot of seniors. This included people who weren't in campus who called up my sister, Malayalis who hadn't been to campus in a long time and ex students. Some of them said that I wouldn't be allowed to work in the 'industry' (Malalam film-, I gather) after I pass out. Two seniors had a long talk with me trying to convince me that I was being made a pawn in the hands of the administration which was essentially anti-student in nature. They said that they would go on a strike which would bring the academic life to a stand still and me and my batchmates would lose a year or two. When all this failed I was ostracized along with my batch. In the Christmas party that happened a notice was put up inviting all batches from 8-10th, clearly giving out the message that us, the 11th batch was not invited. My own batchmates were very hostile to me. They held me responsible for this seclusion.

A year has passed and there still are people who consider me a black sheep. I don't really care. But this situation is scary. The campus is filled with people who are insensitive about any kind of issues. They go by the band wagon. If ragging has been happening for 17 years they will support it too. Why should anything change? Nobody cares about what is just and unjust. Nobody says a word about the casteism in campus. When students of FTII were attacked by ABVP for having invited Kabir Kala Manch to perform in campus along with the screening of Patwardhan's Jai Bhim Comrade two members of the student body came to me asking to write a letter of solidarity. They had no clue with what they were expressing solidarity. When I said that I couldn't write it on their behalf unless they agreed to the things I was writing they said mockingly, 'we agree to it all'.

Yes, that is the problem. They agree to it all. A professor says to a dark complexioned student, we will do a 'black balance' on you. The joke is that the real process is called 'white balancing'. Nobody says anything. On the contrary everyone laughs. Another says 'We have a joke in the department. During shoot we audiographers are treated like SC/ST, OBC people'. Are we serious?
Looks like they are.

I still get asked questions like 'if you were to go back in time would you have done what you did during ragging?' 'Do you still think ragging is bad?'
For the nth time, yes, yes and yes. Because

Say we forget that ragging is a punishable offense. It will be worthwhile to think why it has so many supporters in film schools. How is it that this is being followed like a ritual among a group of supposedly progressive aspiring film makers? The favourite argument of the supporters of this crime is that it is the best way to know the juniors. But this is a sadistic argument. Knowing people is not done by forcibly making them do things. The relationship between juniors and seniors is not that of a circus master and the animal they are training. Nothing gives a group of people authenticity just because they arrived in that space earlier than the others.

Then there is this argument that the raggers suffer from split personality syndrome. They are awfully mean and cruel only during ragging. After that they are good sould who offer you sweaters and tea for the cold. This reminds me of something my friend told about women who undergo domestic violence. Most of them say about their husbands 'Otherwise he is so loving'. Is this 'otherwise-love' any form of love at all? My then room mate was asked to say some swear words in the movie Gangs of Wasseypur. I don't consider this any less than verbal sexual assault. I don't think there is anything wrong in swearing. I swear myself. But I don't forcefully make people gather in a place and make them listen to me swear. Nor do I force people to swear. I have heard of such things happening only in bed. Or in porn. When she started crying she was told to consider this as a training for editing scenes with explicit content. In that case they could very well have asked her to sleep with them considering it all as training, couldn't they.

The acts you are made to do during ragging come in handy later on is another argument. For an hour or more you are asked to stand with the broom as the boom rod and the fire extinguisher as the camera etc. Is it to learn cinema this way that students write a very tough entrance exam, clear it, get shortlisted from thousands of candidates and get selected in a government funded film school? I have never seen any ragger inquiring about the physical fitness of one being ragged. What if someone has a problem standing for more than half an hour? What if they have some fracture in their arms? If something happens to the students while being ragged will they be responsible to the parents who sent them there trusting the institute? Will they be answerable for a human life?

Another way of threatening is by saying that you will suffer in the 'industry' if you don't co operate with ragging. I find this rather silly. Their argument that you will be left out in campus without support from anybody is wrong. People go through hell during each one of the productions. Whether or not they were ragged. Honestly it is only about your film making skills rather than any ragging session you have been through. And the industry they are talking about is shitty to begin with. You go out as a pass out from the institute to be scorned and scorned alone. Everybody struggles. Some make their way out, some don't. That's norm which has not been broken because of the nature of this undemocratic place. Doesn't depend of your film institute history, uh uh.

The support of faculty and other authorities is quite obvious. Some of the professors and staff give you tips for being ragged. Such and such shops sell cigarettes at these hours. So you might go there when they seniors ask you to. I entered the bad books of very many professors due to my take on ragging. That is alright. Whenever there is some change happening, whenever norm was questioned this has happened. There is no easy way out of it. Nero's party had guests.
Some of the faculty indirectly asked me to be happy that we were not being harmed physically. This is because most of them are pass outs from FTII where ragging meant getting beaten up. So? Rules were imposed for a reason. 'Sati' existed here. It was banned for a reason. But while it was happening that too had supporters.

The funniest thing I heard was said by a Malayali batchmate. He said that even though he was devastated by ragging he liked it because having read film school veterans like Bina Paul and Rasool Pookkutty's experiences in film school and ragging he so wanted to experience it.

But later when I thought of it, I realized that its quite possible. FTII is the dream of most of the aspiring film makers in the country. For Malayalis it is a famous nostalgia.
There has been a campaign that ragging is an indispensable part of film school life. There has been deliberate attempts to glorify it by recounting of stories both made-up and real. A nostalgia which can be stated along with canteen, freshers day etc. But ragging is not something to be glorified thus. This is precisely what protects it. It is just a form of torture which has the support of many. That doesn't make it right. Human beings exercising power on other human beings for no valid reason is a form of exploitation no matter what.

But I am slightly happy about some of the changes that have happened. There is an addition in the website of the institute like this. 

In it are the following contents. 

I am happy that I too had a small role to play in it.

Even though my complaint had just five names 8 students were suspended initially. Which means that there were others who even though were using me as a cover protested against it. I find it a relief. Because in places like this it is very hard to safeguard your opinion. More often than not it gets washed away in a deluge of bullshit that your classmates and professors bring with them.

Any day, with any student who protests against ragging, I will be there.

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