The University Grants Commission (UGC) has recently come out with guidelines on safety of students, on and off campuses of higher educational institutions.
To begin with, one of the guidelines state, “Any physical infrastructure housing students, whether HEI or hostels, should be secured by a boundary wall of such height that it cannot be scaled over easily. In order to further fortify it, a fence of spiraling barbed wires can be surmounted on the wall so that unauthorized access to the infrastructure is prevented effectively. The entry points to such housing units should be restricted to three or less and they should be manned by at least three security guards, sufficiently armed, CCTV cameras, identity verification mechanism and register of unknown entrants/visitors with their identity proofs and contact details. At least one woman security personnel should be deployed at such entry points so that physical security check of girl students or visitor can be undertaken. The bags and other belongings of students/visitors can also be examined, manually and/or by metal detectors, in order to secure a weapon-free and violence-free campus“.
Other measures include a biometric system of marking students’ attendance both in educational institutions and hostels, to escape proxy situations, flashing an id card all the time for authentication, setting up of police stations within the premises of institutions and organizing a quarterly parent-teacher meeting.
One of the most hated practices in college for me was the attendance criteria that a student had to meet. The last few days of the academic year would be spent in running from pillar to post to get all documents signed to meet the 66.6% criteria. Threats to get letters sent to home formed a monthly part of my college life.
Such measures not only infringe the right to live, the right to dignity of a student but also hinder the health and progress of the academic community in toto. UGC cannot guarantee a regulation over police behaviour and ethics. How can someone be so sure that there will be no harassment of any kind faced by students in the hands of the police or are we to turn a blind eye to the history of such events? The flashing around of an id card reveals the identity of a student which can easily be taken advantage of by any stranger or perpetrator of a crime. Do we shut ourselves out from such questions in framing guidelines?
These measures hold students back from experiencing a free culture and exchange of ideas in an academic space. Fortifying the college areas and installing CCTV cameras all over the campus is a very detrimental step taken by UGC and threatens the liberty and personal freedom of an individual by gifting the authorities a power so draconian as to threaten the space and freedom of the students.
Reporting to teachers about the progress of a student reduces higher education standards to the level of school education and it not only degrades the freedom and right of a student to make their own choices in exploring their ways and methods, but instills fear and pressure of performance instead of instilling trust and love for the community and subject. This is a very regressive step which needs to be immediately repealed.
The culture of education must provide to the students a platform for engaging in debates and discussions, to move around without fear and to encourage a culture of mutual respect and trust. By putting the campus under the watch of the police and creating fear and inhibition all around threatens the very purpose and aim of education. By adopting stricter guidelines for female students victimizes the female students in the community. It is an act to make them more docile and keep them in locks in the disguise of a nasty protectionist policy. Instead of adopting these regressive methods, gender sensitization must be promoted in the university areas. The very notion of patriarchal hold over the society by framing such guideline gets stronger instead of getting destroyed.
They also make a very careless assumption that parents, wardens, teachers and police do not abuse their authority and do not exercise their might over students.
Anyone above 18 is an adult. They can make their own decision. To have them forced inside classrooms by threatening to punish them and to restrict their movement by fortifying the campus areas or to put them under the vigilance of cameras and police in their campus takes away from them a sense of belongingness to their campus that comes from the very comfort of independence, freedom and trust an academic institution must strive to achieve and provide to its students. If at all they need to be protected, one right question will be, who do they need to be protected from?