National School of Drama registrar, who had called sacking arbitrary, reinstated

The Ministry of Culture (Akademi Division) has reinstated Dr Jwala Prasad, who had alleged that he was removed as part of an “arbitrary and illegal decision with malafide intention”, as the Registrar of the National School of Drama (NSD) in New Delhi.

“It is noticed that the order of short closure of the deputation of Dr Jawala Prasad…. appears to have been issued without following the due process of law and no cogent reasons have been specified for issuing such an order,” reads the letter that directs NSD “to nullify its impugned office order and reinstate Dr Jwala Prasad with immediate effect and to intimate compliance”.

Prasad had been removed on August 7 by NSD “with the approval of the Chairman of the National School of Drama Society”. Prasad, who is on leave in Bihar, says that he was “shocked to see the letter because there was no reason given”. “Till the till the evening of August 6, everything was ok so I was wondering what happened suddenly? If there was a blunder on my part, the natural principle of justice suggests that I should have been given the opportunity to explain my stand,” he says. He had appealed to the Ministry of Culture against NSD’s action.

One of his last tasks, before going on leave, was to approve an event called Suyash, organised by the Collective Response Team as part of the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, at an auditorium of the NSD on August 7. The event allegedly provoked protests at the institute, which, according to Prasad, might have resulted in his wrongful dismissal.

The Students’ Union of NSD told The Indian Express that the students had “no issue with the event, but with the space in which the function was going to happen” as Abhimanch was meant for art and theatre activities. “When we heard about the aforementioned event — which is now being addressed as “tiranga event” — we had discussions with the production department, dean and director and they made it clear that none of them was aware of the programme, and that no permission was given for the space and technicalities. It was a private function under the banner of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav. This is not the first function like this that was happening in Abhimanch… While a student has to go through a number of formalities for their academic space and technical support, the space was being given out for activities that have no relevance to the arts or academics of the school,” their statement read.

The students added that they had gathered at Abhimanch at 9 am on the day of the event and found that the “the whole area was decorated with national flags and flowers with their banner”. “We demanded for the space-approval documents to be presented before the students…Nothing was submitted. The Director-in-charge arrived and tried convincing us to let the function happen this time. We refused for Abhimanch to be used for the function. We asked the people, who came to attend the function, to shift to a studio space nearby since it was raining. We helped them shift to the space as well. We didn’t want them to be standing in the rain,” the student’s body stated.

The students allege that “suddenly a few of the guests turned on their cameras and started shooting and accusing us of disrespecting the National flag”. “The students were shocked since no such thing happened. They asked the students to go away, claiming that school is a public property. (It is a residential school). The students demanded that the video be deleted and explained they never disrespected the flags. They were not ready to remove the video,” says the students’ union, adding that some people from the event made communal comments on the union President Junaid and threatened another woman student.

Prasad has said that he had allowed the event because it was non-political and part of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav and focussed on the Har Ghar Tiranga campaign. “It revolved around people who had served the society during the coronavirus pandemic and included a play as well. I had gone through the plans and presentation before giving my approval. I was not at the event as I had come to Bihar. I heard about the protest by the students and that they had objected to the event. There have been reports that the National flag was disrespected. I will know more when I get back,” says Prasad.

NSD, which has produced some of the greatest performers of the stage and screen in the country, has come under fire in recent times. In October 2021, hundreds of artistes, writers, academics, cultural workers, alumni and former faculty members of the institute had issued a statement objecting to this display of “religious images and iconography”. This came after NSD’s Instagram handle celebrated Navratri by posting about deities such as Ma Shaelpuri and Ma Brahmcharini, On Oct 19, there was a post on Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi. The institute has, however, been celebrating Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav with a packed calendar featuring plays such as Jagdamba and Bapu. According to a post from July 2022, NSD was encouraging people to participate in the Har Ghar Tiranga campaign. Director of NSD, RC Gaur, has said that Prasad’s dismissal had been an “administrative issue”.

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