Several research scholars and hostel inmates of IIT-Madras here have alleged harassment and violation of their privacy by vigilance officers during checks conducted in their rooms, a charge denied by the Dean of students.
The hostel residents, both men and women, say the officers barge into rooms, insult and click pictures without consent and their behaviour violates the students’ right to privacy and dignity. The dean of students, M S Srinivas, said that they had received complaints from students and the vigilance officers have been apprised of the issues and told not to click photographs.
He said the charges do not reveal the whole picture, adding checks are conducted by ex-servicemen trained to deal with such issues. “Vigilance officers are the ones tasked to enforce hostel rules and check for violations. We don’t know if we can call it harassment or enforcement,” he said.
A woman research scholar, who did not wish to be named, alleged that vigilance officials barge into rooms, pull things out and call them names for their personal choices. “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. It is a clear violation of our right to privacy and dignity,” she said.
An informal report, a compilation of harassment faced by students on campus, initiated by the students last year, had alleged rampant “moral policing” by security personnel, non-academic staff, faculty and fellow students. The survey had also said students were targeted for the kind of clothes they wore and public display of affection, among others. A male post-graduate student, who resides in one of the 20 hostels, alleged the fines imposed for violation of rules were “arbitrary” and ranged from Rs 2,000 to Rs 20,000.
However, Srinivas said vigilance officers do not conduct checks in every room, but only random checks.“If a girl is found in a boy’s room, the officers just check if she is an IIT-M student. Besides, guidelines on fines applicable for violations are available with wardens,” he said.
Suggesting specific rules for each section of students, Srinivas said that students at IIT-M range from 17-year-olds to research scholars aged around 35. Perhaps the present rules seem unreasonable to those in the older age bracket, he said.