“If you have a system of surveillance in place where teachers are asked to spy on students and report their personal details to parents it becomes a very dangerous situation that makes students, especially female students, extremely insecure. It can endanger even their life and certainly their education,” says secretary of All India Progressive Women Association, Kavita Krishnan. Activists like Krishnan believe that such surveillance can mar the women’s future prospects and activities on campus. Krishnan says, “In the case of women having relationships or they are politically active, this kind of reporting can put their careers in jeopardy.”
Not only this, the guidelines are set to force even an adult student to seek consent from parents for embarking on a tour. Considering the socio-cultural background of students, in particular female students, such mandatory clauses will create hindrance in overall development of students, a factor enshrined in the UGC’s objectives.
Teacher’s community also doesn’t appear very keen towards these ideas. “By such guidelines government is trying to take away the capacity to question and right to dissent from the students and teachers in universities,” says Executive Council member of Delhi University Abha Dev Habib. Habib, who is an alumnus of Delhi University and has been working as a professor for over a decade, says, “Such attempts will kill the process of free thought in university. Do we consider an 18-year-old, who has the right to vote, as an adult or a baby whose movements need to be reported?”
Setting up a biometric system, displaying identity cards in campus and quarterly parent-teachers meets are also being scorned upon. “It feels like the UGC wants to transform university campuses into elementary schools and treat adult students as kindergarten kids,” says a student.
The new guidelines seem to mark a shift in the UGC’s policy to being much more authoritative and draconian. The UGC correspondence regarding the safety guidelines released in April this year and correspondence dated 26 August which asked the higher education institutes to ensure implementation of ‘SAKSHAM’ recommendations are blatantly contradictory.
The ‘SAKSHAM’ report, published in December 2013, was given by a committee formed by the UGC itself. It gave recommendations on the measures for ensuring the safety of women and gender sensitisation on campuses. The report not only denounces surveillance through CCTV cameras but tries to find out ways to reduce dependence of female students on other students and the teachers in positions of power such as guides in research work. The report was formed in consultation with universities and students through surveys, open forums and debates. It also raised concerns over gender discriminatory rules in women’s hostels such as timings and other restrictions.
While independent student groups are raising their voice against such norms, the UGC chose to remain silent. Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, was pulled up nearly a month ago by the Delhi Commission for Women for its “sexist and hypocritical” hostel rules which barred women students from taking permission for ‘late nights’ and asked them to be back in the college premises by 8 pm. However, no such rules were laid down for the boys’ hostels. Though Jamia administration has assured the commission that they are working on gender-equal hostel rules, such cases keep revisiting campuses such as the one in 2010 at Miranda House and the St Stephen College hostel row in 2013.
However, this time the protest was the spark to jumpstart a campaign called Pinjra Tod (Break the Hostel Locks). The success of Pinjra Tod, initially a social media campaign against sexist discrimination, can be gauged from the fact that within days they were able to gain support from students in Mumbai and have reached out to campuses down south. “The Jamia incident forced us to execute our closed room discussions and start Pinjra Tod,” says Shambhawi Vikram, one of the founding members of the campaign. “My fellow activists and I were threatened by an ABVP member for putting up posters of our Jan Sunwai (public hearing) on Delhi University’s ‘Wall of Democracy’.” Pinjra Tod members have registered an FIR with Delhi Police and appeared defiant after the incident.
Ironically, UGC instead of asking universities to do away with such rules is promoting surveillance and ‘spying’ on the campuses. Also, questions are being raised on the authorship of the guidelines which are against the spirit of the ‘SAKSHAM’ report which was given by its own committee. Kavita Krishnan says “It’s been two decades since I am reading UGC documents and have never seen a document like this which doesn’t have details of formulating committee or an author. One doubts whether it’s UGC which has formulated it or bunch of people sitting at Jhandewalan [RSS headquarters in Delhi].”