NEW DELHI: Are University students now the new ‘enemies of the state’ ? It would appear so with the new University Grants Commission guidelines turning the hostels into high tech fortresses under the pretext of ‘safety and security’ . The guidelines insist that all colleges and universities should carry out major changes in the existing infrastructure with high walls that cannot be easily scaled, fortified with barbed wires, armed security guards, CCTV cameras and a foolproof mechanised identity checking system with biometric checks woven in.

Breaking all conventions of the past the UGC also recommends the setting up of police stations inside the campus especially directed to keep an eye on the students and providing a virtual escort service for late night movement.

These highly intrusive measures are justified by the UGC as its formula for the security of students. The guidelines, as a senior academic of Delhi University pointed out, could be out a jail manual. Salient features include:

1. 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.

2. A fence of spiraling barbed wires can be surmounted on the wall so that unauthorized access to the infrastructure is prevented effectively.

3. 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.

4. CC TV cameras, identity verification mechanism and register of unknown entrants/visitors with their identity proofs and contact details.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. Biometric way of marking student attendance, both in HEI as well as hostels, can be an effective way to overcome proxy.

The UGC says that these measures will enable the universities to “keep an eye on a students movements” and thus, encourages the educational institute to spy on the young people studying there.

Academics have opposed the UGC guidelines as an infringement on the rights and freedoms of students in the guise of protecting them, and started a signature campaign to protest against this ‘intrusion.’ The decision to open police stations in the campuses has been opposed vociferously, even as the UGC claims that the cops on campus can provide “on-demand short-distance escort services to students as they walk down to hostel or nearest taxi or bus-stand etc”.

The petition asks, “has the UGC forgotten that universities are autonomous academic spaces where state practices of policing have no place? This outrageous recommendation not only ignores the fact that the installation of police stations on university campuses undermines the autonomy of Universities, it also puts students at risk because the police force itself is unsafe especially for women and sexual minorities. Will the UGC guarantee that each student will be safe with a police escort? Will the UGC guarantee that the police would not harass or molest students during protests or is such harassment legitimate since student protests are now illegitimate? If the UGC is in any way interested in creating real conditions for the safety of women students on campus, it would do better to implement its own earlier own excellent recommendations for ensuring the safety of women and programmes for gender sensitization on campuses goes on to claim that this is for their safety and security.”

The UGC also wants the educational institutes of higher learning to provide “easily identifiable and authentic” to students and faculty and to make these “compulsory.” Most of the other guidelines relate to excursions, food, counseling programmes, mock fire drills, emergency notification system in case of an incident, parent-teachers meetings in what seems to be a charter more for minors in schools, than adults in universities.

The petition slams the guidelines as a violation of “ the right to privacy, right to life and dignity, freedom of academic expression, as well as comprehensively violate the autonomy of Universities to evolve their own policies and standards of excellence in academic life.”

The petition rejects the guidelines as “premised on a carceral model of university governance modelled around a system of fortification and surveillance that segregates, barricades, monitors, watches, regulates, disciplines and normalizes behaviour and conduct.”

The petition is categorical that “the objective of these guidelines we believe is to create docility, discipline and fear rather than productivity, creativity and freedom of academic expression. We object to these measures as the enforcement of such a panoptic system amounts to an infringement of students’ right to life with dignity and the right to privacy. It also endangers students by forcing them into revealing their identity to everyone who works in the university, thus putting them at risk of targeted harassment on the basis of their gender, or caste, regional or religious affiliation, or sexual orientation.”

The petition being signed by academics, students, parents and other concerned individuals states further, “We are shocked that the guidelines instruct teachers to monitor and regulate their students. They are advised to spy on them by asking hostel wardens to supply them with ‘personal details of students’ and record ‘behavior patterns for prompt pre-emptive or corrective action’.

The petition points out that the measures suggested by the UGC all assume that “adult students have no right to privacy and right to choice and that parents, wardens and teachers do not abuse their power. Furthermore, they suggest that teachers have a duty to spy on their students, causing them to violate the imperatives of good faith and fair and impartial conduct outlined in their conditions of service. These guidelines create a system that can push students who may face discrimination or violence in the family into danger. This is extremely detrimental, for example, to women students who are forced to give up their studies because their parents want to push them into forced marriages. Or to students who exercise their right to choice, be this sexual orientation or the right not to marry.”