Someone who can vote and elect a government and who is capable of writing an advanced research paper is not sensible enough to take decisions such as going on an educational tour. Moreover, they should be kept under surveillance so that “corrective measures” can be taken. At least, this is what the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) guidelines on ‘Safety of Students on and off Campuses of Higher Education Institutions’ spells out for the students.
Although the guidelines were issued in April this year, the furore started only a couple of days back. However, protests against gender discriminatory regulations in hostels have been brewing for some time with creative campaigns such as Pinjra Tod in Delhi. There seems to be a war going on between hawkish regulatory guidelines and an assertion of gender justice and liberal mindset.
The guidelines suggest that the only way to make a campus safe is by establishing an Orwellian surveillance order within the campus. It appears that the State is not satisfied with the amount of mass surveillance and the ‘Big Brother is watching you’ setup under the Central Monitoring System, already covered by TEHELKA , that it has decided to take away privacy from the campuses.
The first suggestion made by the UGC is to fortify the campuses, put ‘barbed wires’ and install CCTV cameras. While the student community is understandably averse to the idea of surveillance through CCTVs, some college administrations second UGC’s view that it will prove as a deterrent to petty crime. “We already have CCTV cameras installed in our campus which within few months will be scaled up to 121. Cameras not only prove as deterrent but also help in identification of those creating nuisance in the campus,” says MM Goyal, principal of Delhi University’s pgdav College.
However, like his counterparts in Hyderabad University and English and Foreign Language University (EFLU), Goyal is against the idea of having police stations with regular patrolling within the campuses. Teachers and students at EFLU and Hyderabad University believe that officers at lower rungs fail to understand the campus culture and invariably end up harassing the students.
On the contrary the UGC believes that setting up of the police stations will “instil a sense of security amongst students and scare amongst nuisance makers and petty criminals”. However, there are examples such as the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) where not just the police but even the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) have failed to stop violence that take place in the campus on a regular basis.
Former JNU students’ union president Ashutosh Kumar says, “I have studied in BHU where the PAC comes very often. There are very few days when crime does not take place in the campus. Police fail to take action against those creating nuisance, as they are politically affiliated.”
The UGC’s proposal of having mandatory ‘Students Counselling System’ is also contentious. In the counselling system, teachers will be allotted a batch of 25 students and will be supposed to “act as guardians”. It further says that teacher counsellors can not only convey the progress reports to parents but can also coordinate with wardens of hostels and ‘exchange personal details of students’, academic records and behaviour patterns for ‘corrective measures’.