Just imagine: you get up in the morning and look out of the window, expecting the sky painted in a beautiful amber colour with the rising sun accompanied by the background music of chirping of the birds, but what you see instead is high walls with barbed wires mounted on the top. What a spoiler! Anyways, you get out of bed looking forward to something that will make up your mood. What you realize is that you are being continuously monitored. Every single room in your house is under CCTV surveillance. You run out of the house, but you observe that there is no place without CCTVs and that you’re being watched every time and every single place you go to. You feel weird (you may even feel wired) and try sharing this feeling, with some strangers on street, to find out if they feel the same. But what you observe instead is a police station at a distance of every half a kilometer and cops everywhere staring at you as if you are some high-time terrorist. Irked by all this, when you try to find out the reason for this sudden change, a voice from heaven answers saying, “This is for your own security. We are trying to protect you.” Alas! Tired, looking in the mirror, you question yourself- “Who am I? A terrorist, to be monitored every second of my life? If I am being monitored for my safety, then who are the people threatening my security? Protection against whom, my parents, my teachers, my friends!? Really!!??”
Well friends, if this description sounds like a bad dream to you, then let me tell you ‘Welcome to our future.’
If the recent University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines for security of educational institutions are followed across the country, one can be sure that they will turn institutions of higher education into prisons of slavery rather than centers of thought and freedom. Instead of raising youth with creativity, freedom, critical thought and independence, the “Guidelines on Safety and Security of Students On and Off Campuses in Higher Educational Institutions” will have young adults emerging from campuses filled with fear, incapable of standing up with independent thought and action.
The ‘Guidelines’ feature a number of problematic provisions in the name of assuring a ‘safe and secure learning environment’ for students. Students are seen in these guidelines as immature beings that require ‘permission’ from authority figures at every stage of their life, on and off campuses.
They begin by discussing the height of walls and kind of barbed wire that are needed to ‘fence’ in higher educational institutions to prevent unauthorized access. But the most disturbing thing is the kind of walls they seek to install in the minds of students. Also included are suggestions to install CCTV cameras and the examination of bags and other belongings of students or visitors, manually or by metal detectors, to secure a weapon-free and violence-free campus. The circular also expects teachers to keep an eye on students (Seriously!?). How is ‘tracking the movement of students’ a legitimate concern of the authorities? What are the authorities aiming at? Not the security of students definitely! This legitimization of surveillance and violation of students (and indeed teachers’) autonomy and privacy calls for severe criticism.
Another foolish suggestion is of the biometric way of marking student attendance so that no proxy attendance is possible. Is attendance at classes something that ought to be ensured by measures such as CCTV cameras and biometric readers? A better option could be guaranteeing attendance with the quality of instruction, teaching and classroom engagement that is attractive enough for students to ‘want’ to attend classes, rather than ‘have to’ show up for the sake of attendance alone. In institutions of higher education, young people live as members of one human community. They go beyond the barriers of caste, class, religion and even gender with mutual trust, learning from each other, contributing to the richness of campus life with cultural activities, debates and discussions. Why, then, impose security and surveillance through biometrics and CCTV cameras where every student is suspected in all institutions? Why check students entering into the campus to see whether they carry weapons?
One of the key provisions talks about the necessity of setting up police stations within university campuses. The guidelines invite the police to patrol college campuses. One can clearly predict university authorities asking students to obtain ‘police permission’ to hold meetings, protests, screenings and simple gatherings. The guidelines go on and on to suggest that policemen act as ‘escorts’, guiding students from one corner of the campus to another. Do campuses need police personnel to ‘escort’ them? Will such a provision make students feel any more secure? In fact, the presence of police ‘escorts’ on campus will escalate fears of moral policing and invasive action by police personnel to enforce their ideas of what kind of dress and behavior is appropriate for students. This will make students, especially women students, feel much less safe and secure than they are at present. Colleges and universities are unique environments, predicated on trust and the peaceful exchange of ideas. What do the men in khaki symbolize? They are an expression of the cultural acceptance of violence and create a very strong aura of power and domination. Is that what a college campus is all about? You cannot make adults out of adolescent boys and girls through fear, control and subordination. Students need to make mistakes and learn from them to attain intellectual maturity. Colleges, unlike police stations and prisons, are not meant to control students but to help them evolve.
The ‘Guidelines’ do include some commendable features – such as the inclusion of a mandatory course on Disaster Management for all students and suggestions for self-defence training. But these are few and far between. The majority of the ‘Guidelines’ simply involve a claim for establishing authority under the banner of security and safety for students.
It is unfortunate that the guidelines are based on certain wrong premises of human nature. The UGC presumes that students in campuses are cheats and anti-socials. That they cannot be trusted and can be disciplined only through external policing. The circular looks at the young as violent, nasty and lawless. Where do such images come from? The reality, of course, is very different. The guidelines will only strengthen the hands of the government on education and weaken the autonomy of institutions and students. What is under attack is free thought. If these guidelines are followed, educational institutions will be training students to be citizens of a police state.
The important questions one must try to think about are – How can any adolescent grow into an adult and make a free choice with police, cameras and surveillance all around? Is the objective of higher education to prepare responsible youth who can think independently and
responsibly or towards creation of a world wherein everyone, all the time, live at the mercy and under the fear of the authorities? Who are we – students or some secret agents to certain terrorist groups to be monitored all the time? Do all these measures really add to our security or stand in the way to growth and development?
If not, then should we accept all this quietly?!