Controversy is brewing yet again at the University of Hyderabad (UoH), after the varsity administration issued orders on Friday that gave the Chief Security Officer special authority.
According to the order, the officer is free to photograph and videograph any activity on campus, check ID cards, confiscate banned substances and question 'suspicious activity', besides being able to inspect hostel rooms, playgrounds and open areas on campus.
The order said that the administration was taking these steps "keeping in view, the situation prevailing on campus" and to "safeguard the interests of the University."
This comes in the wake of the university suspending ten students for "preventing officials from discharging their duties and verbal assault."
Speaking to TNM, Students’ Union President Sreerag Poickadan called the order a breach of privacy and that "emergency has officially been declared in UoH”.
"The word 'suspicious' that is mentioned in the order is itself debatable. Who gets to decide what is suspicious? The order will definitely be misused," he said.
"Students also are not fools. We believe in a responsible student community, and have a history of struggle. The order is unwarranted," he added.
The hostel raid
The entire incident can be traced back to the night of November 3, when a hostel warden and deputy chief warden, along with security guards, raided the men’s Hostel-J in the university. The raid was conducted to check if there were girls staying at the hostel, which is against the guidelines of the administration.
Irked by the move, students gathered at the spot and accused the authorities of moral policing.
The administration alleged that the students then turned off the lights and physically assaulted the deputy warden who was present at the spot.
"I was also there at the spot,” Sreerag says, dismissing the allegations. “There was no such incident. The students were just arguing and sloganeering for better amenities."
"This also exposes the hypocrisy and irony of the wardens, who take a long time to act on complaints on civic issues. It shows their priorities," he adds.
Following the incident, the administration issued show cause notices to 23 students, out of which 10 students were asked to appear in front of a committee and explain their actions.
Out of those 10 students, three of them were suspended for two years and the rest were suspended for a period of six months.
"In 2002, when Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao used to be the chief warden, 10 students were rusticated on charges of attacking him. Now, he is the VC, but his mentality is still that of the warden," Sreerag says.
Appa Rao had even lodged an attempt to murder case on the students, but withdrew the case from court five years later.
Sreerag says that these are issues that can be solved amicably, but instead the university is only suspending the students. “Where do they go?” he asks.
"India is a secular and democratic country, which the VC seems to have forgotten. I also condemn the silence of a majority of faculty members on the issue, despite being one of the stakeholders," he adds.
University denies 'moral policing'
In a press release issued on Thursday night, the university said that it "completely and unequivocally rejects allegations of 'moral policing' being levelled against it by a small section of students."
Calling the entry of officials into the hostel a 'routine check', the university alleged that "it was the intimidatory actions of students, including verbal abuse, physical jostling, and obstruction of faculty members who were performing their official duties that attracted disciplinary action."
The university, in the press release, also claimed that it was willing to consider co-ed hostels.
"However, the university might undertake a comprehensive exercise to elicit the views of all relevant stakeholders, including students and parents, about the kind of residential facilities they would like the University to provide. If a majority of them feel that students should be able to stay in a co-ed hostel if they chose to, the university might consider creating such a space and allow students to formally register for such accommodation. But this is a process that cannot be taken up and completed overnight," it said.
Reacting to the claim, Sreerag said, "That's the problem with their mentality. What is the role of parents in discussing the lives of PhD scholars who are doing their research? We are all adults here, and the Constitution gives all of us the freedom of choice."
Calling it a clear case of moral policing and harassment by the officials, he said that this was not acceptable.
"As far as the matter of co-ed hostels is concerned, that is not a concern. Not everyone is a couple. We just want a space where men and women can interact. Where is that space? We welcome the administration if it feels that way, but we need discussion first, and maybe look at the possibility of changing the present hostel rules," he adds.
As far as the suspension is concerned, Sreerag said they will take the issue up with the administration and demand that the order is revoked.
“There is no dispute within the Student Union on that demand. Until and unless they revoke the order, we are not going to be idle," he says.