By Rohitha Naraharisetty, Sharanya Menon, Patanjali, Akash Kumar, and Meena Chockalingam
A survey conducted by T5E revealed some startling statistics about the extent of gender-based harassment prevalent on campus. In this article, we draw to your attention the fact that out of 822 respondents, 42 female, 11 male and 1 identifying as other, responded in the affirmative regarding both verbal and non verbal harassment by security officials; while 14 male, 54 female, and 1 who identified differently revealed that they had been in uncomfortable situations with guards. Quoting from a previous article in the series, “The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, elaborated and clarified the scope of “sexual offences” in the Indian Penal Code. Under the amendment, section 354A defines “sexual harassment”, and recognizes only (cis)women as victims, and presumably, only (cis)men as perpetrators. It is defined as:
- physical contact and advances involving unwelcome and explicit sexual overtures; or
- a demand or request for sexual favours; or
- making sexually coloured remarks; or
- forcibly showing pornography; or
- any other unwelcome physical, verbal or nonverbal conduct of sexual nature”
Last year, an article was published regarding the security protocol followed on campus following an alarming incident involving a guard which occurred during Saarang. It would be useful to read through it as well, as this article is a follow-up which enquires into the implementation of some of the solutions promised, and whether or not steps have been taken towards more preventive measures.
At present, we were informed that there are a total of 250 outsourced guards hired at present, with 3 agencies (who shall remain unnamed) outsourcing them. They are stationed at the hostels, gates, and the residential zones. In addition, 52 guards are hired directly by the institute, of which 12 had been newly inducted since last year, including 1 woman. There are a total of 14-15 women lady guards. At the time of induction, the institute creates and thence maintains a record of each employee’s photo, permanent address, thumb impression, present address, and checks for ID proof such as Aadhar cards.
At the outset, both the Dean of Students and the Chief Security Officer (CSO) seemed unaware of the numbers we had put forward to them as detailed in the survey, and expressed concern at the magnitude of victims in this particular case. The Dean promised that the institute as a whole was more diligent towards ensuring proper background checks in the case of each guard who is hired. Our survey however, tells a different tale. To quote one respondent in her account of what she faced by the guards, she stated “And then he also told us that he got into trouble for something involving a girl up in north India, was sent to jail, broke out and is now in hiding (AS A SECURITY GUARD ON CAMPUS!!!). Are there no background checks on security guards?”
Further, some guards who spoke to us under the condition of anonymity alleged that they hadn’t had proper background checks conducted at the time of their employment. Surprisingly, the CSO himself admitted that there is a possibility that background checks may not be thorough, as they are conducted by the outsourced agencies and not the institute. The institute merely receives an undertaking that background checks from the local police stations at the places of origin of various guards are conducted by the agencies themselves. It then receives a Conduct and Antecedents (C&A) certificate for each guard, which is an attestation certificate which confirms that the qualifications for employment have been adhered to and that the background check has been conducted and found to be clean. In addition, the guards comprise of a floating population and have low retention rates. The period of contract for each guard is now 6 months, with an extension period of an additional 6 months based on reviews and records.
An important issue to be looked into however, is the minimum and maximum age at which guards can be employed. According to the institute rules as per its contract with the outsourced agencies, it is mandatory that the age bracket for security guards is 25-45 years (as compared to last year’s 25-40). However, a few guards who spoke to us under the condition of anonymity were of the ages 46, 50, 55, and 62. Almost all of them confirmed that underage guards, sometimes even below the age of 20, are hired. Indeed, even the CSO conceded that it was difficult to strictly abide by this rule as it is not always feasible to comply with the age limits. This comes as a disappointment especially considering the fact that last year, we were told that the reason for the age bracket was to ensure maturity and physical vitality, both of which are important recruiting criteria for security guards charged with maintaining the safety of the institute. What’s more, the assailant from last year was found to be 18 years old at the time of employment and committed the crime when he was 20. Following the incident, we were promised that the age criteria will be implemented more strictly but that does not seem to be the case at present.
A positive development since last year, however, has been the enforcement of compulsory name badges for each guard as stipulated in Section 16.4 of the Tamil Nadu Private Security Agencies Rule, 2008 stating, “Every private security guard while on active security duty will wear and display photo identity card issued under section 17 of the Act, on the outer most garment above waist level on his person in a conspicuous manner.” Last year, almost none of the guards had been found wearing distinct identification badges on their person but this has changed for the better. We were informed by the CSO that badges are checked every day during roll call, and the agencies provide ID cards for their respective guards. However, two guards we had spoken to did not have ID cards, stating that the reason for this is that the agency had not provided them with one. While this seems to be a rare occurrence, it is still a violation of the aforementioned Rule.
The training of guards is conducted by the agencies themselves before their induction into the institute. The CSO however remains unsure whether this training is fully carried out by the agencies. On the Institute’s part however, they conduct Parade PTs every month, and instruct the inducted guards on the do’s and don’ts to be followed strictly. This notice is present at every hostel, although it is not clear whether it is conspicuous enough for students to peruse. The protocol followed everyday for guards is 2 drills, one of which involves a roll call; with the chief duty officer meteing out instructions for the day. According to our sources, this is done with fair regularity. The previous article also stated that guards near hostels are rotated every 6 months to prevent excessive familiarity in case of potentially harmful situations. However, this year the CSO informed us that rotation remains an issue as the hostel management insists on little to no rotation for precisely the opposite reason- that familiarity of guards would ensure more security and trust, and a more seasoned guard to handle any unwarranted situation. The CSO is of the opinion however that rotation must be carried out regularly at hostel zones- the way the police force is rotated regularly. The Dean of Students however did mention that there has been increased patrolling, and some of the measures taken to tackle complaints from Sabarmati hostel included the recruitment of 15 permanent officers trained by the police including one lady guard. Protocol followed at night from 10pm to 6am mainly includes logging of visitors. We were made aware of a vigilance team which plies in a van from time to time, though we are not aware of how often this happens. They are responsible for keeping a lookout for illegal activities that may be going on and to catch miscreants if they find any.
A recent problem which has been noted by several students is the easy entry of individuals into the campus. Protocol at the main gate requires drivers of vehicles to collect an entry pass, and sign it before returning the pass at the out-gate. The pass contains details about the name of the driver, the vehicle number, the destination, and the date. A record of this is maintained in logbooks wherein it can be verified whether vehicles which have entered campus have exited or not, but it remains unclear whether this check is conducted regularly. The signing of the slip is not conducted to the extent that many are not even aware that this is the protocol to be followed. Further, unmonitored entry of individuals is even more worrisome, as there have been multiple instances of unwanted persons who, in one particular case, had been banned from entering campus itself, have been able to enter inconspicuously. Those entering, especially at night, are required to provide their student ID cards and sign a register. What often happens in these cases is that one person signs on behalf of a group, something which the security seems helpless to address as students “don’t have patience” to follow this diligently. We took these concerns to the CSO and the Dean of students- the former informed us that the manual entry pass procedure is in the process of being phased out, to be replaced by new technology currently on the pipeline which would monitor the people entering campus; the latter informed us that at present, cars are checked if the security section is informed of any threat pertaining to entry of certain individuals. In addition, surveillance cameras are installed at the gates.
With regard to whether there has been an amping up of security measures since last year, the DoSt answered in the affirmative, but admitted to the prevalence of cases where things go “beyond our control,” citing an example where the perpetrator was himself a student and though debarred, has been found to have entered campus regardless. He confessed that the administration is short of ideas on how to tackle delicate situations involving other students themselves; while measures are taken up seriously, the implementation is difficult to follow through. He did mention that this year’s Saarang saw beefed up security, especially with stricter entry restrictions into the professional shows each night.
Some of the guards who were spoken to confessed that the agency doesn’t provide them with adequate facilities, and they don’t get paid on time. While we haven’t had a chance to enquire about this with the authorities concerned, a worrying pattern can be discerned wherein the outsourced agencies are in possession of much power and leeway when it comes to the training, ID, background checks and apparently salaries too of their guards, with insti authorities uninvolved in these processes and thus unaware if they are conducted with due diligence as was mentioned above. If the information regarding these aspects provided by the guards and the lack of surety regarding the C&A certification process is anything to go by, sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Tamil Nadu Private Security Agencies Rule are being directly violated in a few cases.
Further, the guards also came forward to say that they were aware of some people who would smoke and indulge in other substances while on duty, though it is not clear whether that still is the case. When asked about the effectiveness of security protocol to be followed in case of any incidents, they told us that the security section is contacted immediately who then send forward personnel to apprehend the perpetrator, but some level of laxity exists due to the lack of proper communication between personnel from the three agencies. They also complained about not getting adequate facilities from the institute itself.
A relatively heartening aspect of the issue is the fact that the Dean strongly agreed and advocated for the need to sensitise both students and employees on campus. Indeed, it is already underway for research scholars, and had been incorporated this academic year into the Life Skills course held for first years every year. He agreed that this was far from enough, and a more systematic sensitisation process needs to be in place, including that of guards. An overall workplace sensitization is also required. In addition, he along with the CSO urge students to come forward and report any and every incident they face, stressing that in the short term, this would go a long way in tackling future occurrences of this nature. The night shuttle, available on call for women students, is used lesser this year than it was last year- according to the CSO, the number having reduced as drastically as 300 last year to around 10 calls this year. He mentioned the availability of a lady guard in the shuttle at times, and urged students to use it when they have lab work late at night and find themselves having to return to their hostels alone. Overall, the fact remains that there is still work to be done in terms of the institute taking a more proactive role at the employment stage itself, in order to ensure proper training, background checks, and timely payment of guards.