An open discussion between the institute administration and the student body was held at 8 pm, April 18th, in CLT to address issues relating to hostel regulations and women’s security in campus. With no clear statement having been given by the administration, students were unable to distinguish between fact and fiction in the face of numerous newspaper articles on the topic. The Institute Director, Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthy, and Dean of Students Prof. L.S. Ganesh, were present to answer questions about a range of issues from the large number of students present which included a strong representation from the girls’ hostels. Despite the meeting being conceived only 2 hours prior to its commencement, the hall was full by 8:15 PM.
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Before the floor was made open to questions, the Director preemptively clarified the meeting’s purpose by making a distinction between personal views of any faculty member and the official view of the institution, requesting students to not discuss the former in the forum, regardless of how disagreeable they may be. He argued that the institute has a clear set of rules, sometimes derived from actual laws, and that it is on occasions where personal zeal leads someone in authority to overdo or supplement these regulations that a redressal is due.
He also mentioned several times that no regulation regarding hostel and social life of students is passed without consulting with the student body. Drawing from his experience as a student, faculty, Dean and eventually Director of IIT Madras, he reiterated that any decision affecting residents on campus have always been made after extensive discussion with all stakeholders. These decisions are made with the help of student representatives (Gen Sec, R.A.S. and A.A.S.) in the Senate as well as the Student Affairs Council. To cite examples, he mentioned the decisions to reschedule Shaastra and Saarang to the first month of the same semester , as well as the 85% attendance rule, both of which were made after extensive consultation with students. He specifically stated that, apart from the decision to reschedule Shaastra-Saarang, no decision for reform had been taken in the last three months, contrary to the numerous sensationalized press reports. He also stated that any objectionable rule could be changed subject to discussion.
The Director also requested students to understand that the positions of administration in campus (Warden, Dean etc.) are taken up voluntarily, with faculty choosing to take up these positions in their spare time. This could lead to mistakes made by the administration, either by conviction or sloppiness. However, he stated that avenues for students to express their concern existed – contacting other faculty members, Deans, and if all else fails, the Director, is an accepted course of action.
Questions were asked regarding several restrictive measures implemented in the hostel environment. The long-standing issue of LAN cuts and 85% attendance were also raised. The Director said that many of these measures began with the hope to counter declining classroom attendance and performance of students. Some of them, such as the attendance rule, had been reported by many members of the faculty — including the Director himself — as beneficial. On the subject of LAN cuts, he mentioned that the midnight rule came into place only after consultation and consensus of then-students of the institute, although contentious views were expressed later regarding the rule.
Objections were raised by students of Tapti hostel regarding regulations placed by their warden due to which students were woken up by cleaners at 6 in the morning for a “forcible” cleaning of their rooms, and the rule whereby a student found sleeping in his room between 9am-4pm without a proper medical certificate would have his parents and Head of Department informed. Students opined that this was a clear case of personal views of the administration being imposed on the student body. The Director expressed that if any such issues are reported to the administration for redressal, it can be undone with immediate effect, prior to discussions relating to its validity.
The Director mentioned that some measure of laxness has been and still is maintained in some instated rules, and that these came with risk on the part of the administration. Lack of documentation about students’ whereabouts was cited as one example, where the warden of the hostel often has to address calls from parents late into the night if they are unable to reach their wards by phone. He also stated that drinking and sexual activity was prohibited firmly by the rules within the hostel zone.
A question was raised regarding why representation by students was poor in the Senate, to which the Director responded that, while only three representatives actually took part in the Senate meetings, the agenda was published two weeks in advance for the benefit of discussion within the student body. He also added that the Senate mainly handled academic issues, and that decisions regarding student matters take place in SAC and Board of Students (BoS) meetings after discussions with student representatives and with full representation of the student executive wing.
Aside from incidents of theft in campus, security came into prominence after several incidents of attempted sexual harassment by men in motorcycles. The perpetrators have been found to be both from within and outside campus, and residents of the Sarayu extension had submitted a written petition to the Dean Students for attention to this issue.
The Director explained that the best measure against external security threats would be enlisting the services of a CISF force to guard the campus perimeter which, while effective, was rejected by administration due to the fact that their patrols are armed and are not answerable to anyone except their commandant. Also, the need for such measures was not felt since the threats were not that grave.
While the administration takes regular measures to close breaches in the perimeter, they have been subject to failure. It was noted by the Director that residents outside the campus make mounds to climb over the walls and that police action in this regard had also proved ineffective. He also pointed out incidents where the infiltrating outsiders have been known to beat up security guards.
The primary issue that the discussion touched on was women’s security, which had been subject to controversy due to some proposals put forward by the admin in a previous meeting, such as a paid escort service and a written “declaration”, perceived by some women residents as gender-discriminatory. The earlier statement by Dean Students that women were physically weaker than men and consequently more vulnerable also drew ire, as well as his stance that victims of harassment who were outside safe zones late into the night would have to answer “difficult questions”.
The following were the proposals discussed (with no question of implementation in the near future) by the Dean Students, Sarayu/Sharavati hostel wardens and women residents:
- Self-defence training for women: the Dean Students noted that it was met with a positive response.
- Cameras installed across campus, cited to be 2000 in number
- Providing whistles: Dean Students mentioned that the suggestion came from the girl students themselves.
- Pepper sprays
- Paid escorts: this was a completely voluntary proposal, and constituted assigning students only at request.
- Declaration of Safety: Dean Students clarified that this was not a safety measure, and that it applied to hostels of both genders. The declaration states briefly that the signatory is aware of the risks faced by wandering in the night outside safe zones, and of the potential consequences of taking these risks.
Regarding installation of cameras, the Director mentioned that this could only be effective in departments and well-lit areas, and is limited as a security measure. Speaking about the timeline at 11 pm, he said that it had been in place since long ago, enforced only laxly. Students are free to move around the campus (or go outside) at anytime, but are requested to inform friends whenever they left hostels late in the night. The proposal of signing a declaration was, according to Dean Students, a term of agreement by which “if you are an adult, state as adults that you are aware of the risks.”
The issue of security guards without uniforms was also raised. Dean Students mentioned that the service has been around since he was a student himself. A question was raised regarding the dangers posed by false plainclothes security guards, backed up by an incident in the HS department and Sharavati hostel where girls were subjected to intrusive inquiries from strangers.
After 10 PM, many questions began to be redundant and not many new points were raised. The Dean Students and the Director both responded to numerous queries ranging from the veracity of news reports to hostel night regulations. The Director answered every query asked of him in the 3 hour 40 minute meeting, significant or otherwise, with patience. It was heartening to see the administration taking such measures to ensure that facts prevail in lieu of the media coverage. The Director promised he would look into the numerous issues raised and take action over the next few days.
Note: This is only the first 30 minutes of the 3 hour session. The rest of the video will be uploaded shortly. T5E thanks the Media Club for the video.
Update: The rest of the video is made available on our Youtube Channel: < http://www.youtube.com/user/The5Estate >