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Students Don’t Want Big Brother Watching: Why Does UGC Want To ‘Invade Our Privacy’?

Posted on September 23, 2015 in Campus Watch

By Bhanvi Satija

The University Grants Commission has graciously allowed the student community to carry “personal communication devices such as mobile phones in order to remain in constant touch with their parents/guardians.” Thank you UGC, what would we have ever done without this grant of permission?

In an attempt to make the campuses of higher educational institutions safe and secure, UGC issued a circular on 16th April 2015, outlining the guidelines Universities under it need to follow. However, a close look at these guidelines tell us that they are exactly the opposite of what they claim to be. For starters, the circular states that all University buildings are expected to be secured by high boundary walls, surmounted by a “fence of spiralling barbed wire”, along with recommending the use of a biometric system for marking student attendance in classes as well as in hostels; and establishing CCTV cameras at entry points to housing units.

Adding to the atmosphere of high surveillance that the guidelines aim to create, the circular also recommends that universities should aim to set up police stations within or near their premises so that they “handle any crisis situation in an instant” and run nightly patrols as a preventive measure. The circular clearly points out the ‘advantage’ of these measures: “to keep an eye on a student’s movement and whereabouts in a failsafe manner.” Moreover, the circular recommends active involvement of parents and regular parent-teacher meetings. And here, we thought that we were out of school already! The circular also outlines the role of a teacher, as both a guardian and a counsellor, which is why, he/she is expected to “convey growth report and feedback on attendance, examination results etc, to their parents.” They are also expected to “coordinate with wardens of hostels and exchange personal details of students’ academic record, and behaviour patterns for prompt pre-emptive or corrective actions.”

These guidelines are a straightforward invasion into a student’s life, infringing on our individual liberties and putting under threat our basic right to privacy, which is implicit in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution under the Right to Life and Liberty (R. Rajagopal vs State of Tamil Nadu, 1994). At various points, the guidelines also take away several choices from the student community – mandating the wearing of Identity Cards on campus, being escorted by the police if a student gets late at night, etc. Moreover, it is important to note that these guidelines are in direct contrast to what the Saksham Report of 2013 recommended.

The 7th Recommendation of the Saksham Report, which deals with University Services and Infrastructure states that: “Counselling services must be professional and provided on a full-time basis. The provision of sufficient lighting in and around campuses, reliable public transport, toilet facilities and health (including sexual health) are necessary requirements for women’s security and freedom from harassment. Hostel accommodation must be enhanced for women students. A requisite number of female security personnel are required and all security staff must be gender sensitized.” Another of the reports’ recommendation was also to tackle the “the problem of protectionism”. It clearly states that “campus safety policies should not result in securitization, such as over monitoring or policing or curtailing the freedom of movement, especially for women.” However, the current UGC guidelines, which are supposed to be in line with the Saksham Report seem to be on another track altogether.

These guidelines, issued in April, have not been implemented across most universities amid objections. At the University of Hyderabad, where these guidelines were implemented, the student community is actively resisting and protesting against them. The kind of misuse and exploitation of power which can take place once these exorbitant set of guidelines are implemented is clear from the example of the University of Hyderabad. It’s high time that UGC realises that the amount of control it is aiming to have on the student community is going to backfire (in fact, already is) – and hence, the wise thing would be to take back these guidelines and for once, try and create the space that the Saksham Report envisioned.

The academia and the student community have come together and are urging the University Grants Commission to take back its 16th April 2015 Circular on Safety and Security of Students in Higher Educational Institutions. If you agree and want UGC to take back these guidelines, sign this petition.

Update: In New Delhi students of JNU, DU, Jamia, AUD, teachers, citizens will be protesting at UGC on 24th September at 2 pm demanding the withdrawal of the guidelines.

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