Research scholars and hostel residents at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, have accused vigilance officers of harassment and of violating their privacy and dignity while conducting checks in their rooms, PTI reported on Monday.

Several inmates claimed that officers entered their rooms without permission and clicked photographs, which violated the students’ right to privacy. Dean of students MS Sivakumar said vigilance officers have been asked to not take photographs in hostel rooms after the administration received complaints from students.

However, Sivakumar claimed the behaviour cannot be described as harassment as the officers are former servicemen trained to deal with such matters. “Vigilance officers are the ones tasked to enforce hostel rules and check for violations,” he said. “We don’t know if we can call it harassment or enforcement.”

Students last year had compiled an informal report on the harassment they faced and alleged “moral policing” by security personnel, non-academic staff, faculty and fellow students. The report claimed that students were also targeted for their choice of clothes and for public displays of affection, among other issues.

An unidentified woman research scholar said that vigilance officials would enter rooms, pull things out, and call the students’ names. “We are all adults, it is really demeaning to experience all this. We might have a lot of stuff that we do not want others to see. It need not even be prohibited things,” she said. “It is a clear violation of our right to privacy and dignity.”

While female students are allowed to visit male colleagues in their room for academic purposes, a woman scholar said that vigilance officers take note of women students entering the men’s hostels and carry out checks even when they go there during permitted hours.

However, Sivakumar said officers only conduct random checks, and do not check every room. “If a girl is found in a boy’s room, the officers just check if she is an IIT-M student,” he said.

An unidentified postgraduate student claimed that the fines imposed for violating rules were “arbitrary”, ranging from Rs 2,000 to Rs 20,000. “Students have no idea about the slabs and it has not been put up anywhere on the campus,” he said.

Sivakumar, however, dismissed the allegation and said the guidelines on fines were available with wardens.