Barbed wires atop high walls, closed-circuit television cameras everywhere, biometric attendance, police posts inside campuses, and regular parent-teacher meetings. These are just some of the many prescriptions in the University Grants Commission’s latest guidelines for safety and security of students on campuses that have sparked outrage in varsities around the country.

In the south, students of the English and Foreign Languages University in Hyderabad and the University of Hyderabad have been agitating against their institutions for complying with some of the stringent prescriptions. And in the north, a section of students and faculty of the University of Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru University have been demonstrating to prevent their institutions from implementing the guidelines that were issued in April.

Last Friday, the Democratic Students’ Front, a political association at JNU, called a public meeting on the campus and burnt copies of the guidelines to register their protest against what it terms an attempt to “curb the freedom of students”. The guidelines come at a time when students across India are already incensed at the discriminatory hostel rules for men and women.

“The UGC is going back in time with all these diktats,” said Ishan Anand, secretary of DSF who led the Friday protest. “They want CCTVs on the campus so that they can track students’ movements and keep a check on any agitation that could erupt against campus authorities.”

Focus on wrong areas

Anand says the University Grants Commission’s guidelines took up issues that were “settled long ago” but left out important matters that could actually help keep students safe.

“They want to focus on safety through curtailing freedoms,” he said. “And the document makes no mention of gender sensitisation, setting up campus unions and fixing accountability. Just self-defence training isn’t going to change how the university works every day.”

The newly-appointed student council at JNU is expected to take the issue forward and pass a resolution against the UGC guidelines. Meanwhile, Ayesha Kidwai, a professor at the university, has launched an online petition asking the UGC to roll back the guidelines.

“The UGC is trying to turn campuses into prisons with these guidelines which are restrictive in nature,” Kidwai said. “They are recommending high walls and barbed wires across campus as if it is a crime scene and we already have proctoral committees, security in place at the campus. Why do we need police on the campus land to feel more secure?”

Kidwai believes the UGC is overreacting to a recent case of college students in Bihar meeting an accident while on a college trip. By suggesting that parents be briefed about students’ excursions, she says, the commission is giving short shrift to students’ choices.

“Everyone who comes to a university is an adult with their own rights, parents are nowhere in the picture,” Kidwai said. “Universities are open spaces with free movement, independent thinking and a space for inquiry... If implemented, the UGC guidelines will change all that.”

Surveillance trinity

Among the many contentious recommendations of the UGC is the advice to install biometric identification devices on campus to track the attendance of students so that universities can “keep an eye on a student’s movement and whereabouts in failsafe manner”.

The guidelines furthermore urge the universities to set up police stations on campuses so that they are able to “handle any crisis situation in an instant”. The suggestion hasn’t gone down well with academicians who feel this would increase moral policing and unwarranted interventions on campuses.

Constant police surveillance has already proved to be a bad idea. At the University of Hyderabad, students and teachers have been protesting against night-time police patrolling for around two months. The university, for its part, maintains that it is acting on an inviolable direction of the Union Ministry of Human Resources Development.

A student from the University of Delhi, speaking on condition of anonymity, argues that the UGC is building a “surveillance trinity” through CCTVs, teachers and police to ensure that it can keep a check on student movements and protests.

“They want teachers to report to parents every quarter about student’s progress, growth and attendance as if we are some toddlers in need of parental guidance,” the Delhi University student said. “They are turning universities into schools and by looking at the state of school education in the country, it is clear that it’s not going to bode well for anyone in the long term.”