You are being Watched
Thick green cables are everywhere. Snaking up the outer walls of the Maulana Azad Library, hanging nearly unnoticed at the corner of the Department of Museology building, prominent at the entrance to every residential hall.
Each of the 72 thick green cables leads to a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) camera. The receptor atop the library building, which controls all 72, has a green cable too. The cables do their job—busily transmitting packets of data on everything that happens at the university. This is a campus that watches itself, day in and day out.
On February 8, Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, reader and chairman of Modern Indian Languages at AMU, was filmed having consensual sex with a rickshaw puller. It didn't matter that the professor was in the privacy of his quarters. No questions were asked on who set up the cameras in his bedroom; instead, Siras was simply suspended. On April 5, Siras returned to the campus after the Allahabad High Court stayed his suspension. This time too, the cameras were watching. So when the glare got too much, Siras gave up his fight—he was found dead in his house two days later, on April 7.
In Siras's death, the cameras have had to turn inwards, the focus shifting to their role and that of the shadowy intelligence network, called the Local Intelligence Unit (LIU). This is a campus of paranoia, where anonymity means everything to those who speak out.
The university claims the cameras are there for security reasons. "The initiative to upgrade security came from the Union Home Ministry after the Vice Chancellor's lodge was burnt down by students on the night of September 16, 2007," claims AMU Vice Chancellor P.K. Abdul Azis, who has held the post since June 2007.
But AMU Teachers' Association Secretary Jamshed Siddiqui isn't convinced. "The teachers were opposed to the idea from the beginning. However, the VC managed to pass the proposal to install CCTV cameras in a February 24, 2009, Executive Council meeting that had not fulfilled its quorum," he says.
A year later, even as Siddiqui sat in his air-conditioned Teachers' Club office in the campus at 10.30 p.m. on Thursday and filled the room with cigarette smoke, 72 infrared-enabled CCTV cameras watched over the university.
"The cameras are non-intrusive, and are not placed inside any building," Azis said of the Godrej-installed system. They are reportedly worth
Rs 10 crore, are fitted with backup power and can record images. A good number of them have 360-degree vision and the one outside the VC's lodge has a visibility radius of 800 metres.
From the premises of the General Education Centre, which houses the university's cultural clubs, a student does his best to pin-point the location of the camera outside the Department of Museology. The camera is at the corner of the building and is positioned to read the faces of people going inside.
"Have you seen the movie V for Vendetta," he asks, turning around with a mischievous smile. "Students wearing masks will take down all those cameras someday soon," he says.
The cameras are just one part of the university's surveillance mechanism. There is the Watch and Ward staff, 300 men in khaki known on campus as 'Bulls'. And then, there is the mysterious Local Intelligence Unit (LIU).
Who makes up the LIU? Nobody knows for sure, but it's said to be an organised chain—proctors and deputy proctors at the top, and proctoral monitors and deputy proctoral monitors among the students who act as paid informers.
Students are convinced that the LIU had a part to play in filming Siras. The FIR that Siras filed names four AMU employees—Proctor Zubair Khan, Deputy Proctor Fareed Ahmad Khan, Spokesperson Rahat Abrar and Media Adviser NAK Durrani—and three mediapersons, one unidentified, for forcefully landing up at his house and videographing him.
Students say there have been other instances to prove the LIU's presence on campus. "Recently there was tension on campus and some students had come together to discuss the matter," recalls Adil Hossain, a first-year student of Mass Communication. "In no time, the van of the proctor started taking rounds in the area. It took some sloganeering from the students to make them go away."
"The university is ever-expanding. We cannot manage the law-and-order situation with the current strength of the Watch and Ward. We want to reduce the workload on them," says Proctor M. Zubair Khan, who commands the Watch and Ward team.
"The campus is very peaceful now and the cameras help us spot people with ease," says a man, who claims to be an employee of the LIU, over a cup of tea inside the AMU canteen. To make his point, he tells us how he knew we were at the university's Sulaiman Hall the previous day, on Tuesday, and how our vehicle was in the campus the previous week—when Siras was found dead.
"I met the Vice Chancellor with a request for more musical instruments last week," says a member of the music club who refuses to reveal his name. "He turned around and asked me about the private show our band had conducted outside the campus recently," he says. "There is no way they could have known otherwise," he says. And then, after pausing for effect, says, "LIU."
On a bed at the University Health Centre, Afaq Ahmad, a coat of Lacto Calamine on him, says, "I am in big trouble." The M.Phil researcher of Mass Communication did not bother to clarify what made his trouble big—the chickenpox he had or the "punishment" he had received. Ahmad was thrown out of the V.M. Hall hostel after he was caught filming the dining hall. "The food was bad and the students were being charged Rs 200 extra. So after a general body meeting on March 2, the students decided to supervise the running of the dining hall for a month and the university agreed," he says. A month later, obviously pleased with their running of the canteen, Ahmad, along with two of his friends—PhD students from AMU, according to him—started filming the hall, ostensibly to prove to the university authorities how the food had improved and the students were visibly happy.
But the university wasn't happy and threw Ahmad out of the hostel. "The aforementioned students on April 12, 2010, invited some outsiders for shooting pictures and video clips of the dining hall...," goes the April 12 letter of the provost of V.M. Hall. "We had hardly begun filming when the officials came in. How did they know so soon?" Ahmad asks. "LIU," chips in his friend helpfully from across the room.
But it's not just this invasion of privacy that has come under criticism in the university.
The campus has a violent record. A student was murdered on campus in 2007 and another was killed outside the campus in 2009. The murders rocked the university and the hostels had to be shut down for several weeks. After the 2007 murder, the VC's residence was attacked and burnt down. In 2006, the students' union was dissolved, ostensibly to check violence on campus.
And then, there are the gender issues. "Women do not matter here. People here think women are to be protected," says fourth-year student of law Sanchita Ain, sitting in the Thursday morning sun outside the university canteen—that makes her and her friend Shazia Malik the only women in the canteen that has a designated Girls' Enclosure.
Tanzeem Fatima will have a lot to say about designated places in AMU. In January 2007, the 36-year-old took over as the only woman faculty in the Department of Law. She was uncomfortable about sharing the staff room with 11 male members and went to the then-VC Naseem Ahmad with the plea that she be allotted a separate chamber. She alleges that her male colleagues "passed comments and made fun" of her. "Also, there was no washroom for women as they had installed a generator there," Tanzeem says.
Soon, Tanzeem's pleas caused friction in the department. She was up against the chairman of the Law Faculty (who was also the then university proctor) and the dean, who was also the registrar. "The issue, coupled with the politics of appointments, snowballed. I was assaulted by a fellow faculty member on January 16 and 17, 2007," alleges Tanzeem.
Tazneem was suspended and the services of the guest faculty who assaulted her were terminated. The guest faculty is reportedly back on campus; Tazneem remains suspended.
But of late, the watchers are being watched. A fact-finding team of Justices Bashir Ahmed Khan and A.N. Divecha is looking into alleged financial irregularities by the Vice Chancellor. Azis has repeatedly rejected the allegations.
Meanwhile, at AMU, they still they wait. They watch.
- Deepu Sebastian Edmond / yahoo news