Interview with the Director, Prof. Balaram
1) On what basis are the security guards chosen?
Security is an outsourced activity. We have a very small number of security guards who are on the permanent rolls of the institute. But the security contracts are awarded on the same basis as all other outsourced contracts are awarded i.e., the requirement is projected and tendered, and different security agencies which are in the business of providing security manpower to both commercial and government establishments, provide their offers. There is a contracts committee and nowadays, all contracts are awarded on the basis of the lowest bidder who satisfies all the requirements. They will have to provide everyday a certain number of people and they will have to fulfil all the other conditions which the labour laws prescribe.
So are they not given any training by the institute or the institute doesn’t look into whether they are given any training by their organisations?
Certainly what happens is that these will be organisations which have a track record of having provided security to other organisations. In very much the same way that we do building contracts, if a contractor is to build a building, he should have built many buildings of comparable value or even higher value before he is eligible to be given a contract. Certainly, the institute cannot impart training to security personnel. They are already trained in whichever organisation they are.
2) What areas of the campus are not yet secure and the need to have security beefed up in your opinion?
This is a difficult question. I do not think it is possible to have the entire campus completely secure at all times. That would be an unrealistic expectation because there are large wooded areas, areas of the campus where, by and large nobody ever goes, and if somebody did go there, especially if they go there in the middle of the night, they would be going there with a certain amount of risk associated because certainly in those areas, there is nothing which says that there are no elements who should not be there, do not happen to be there, are not hiding there. This is a problem with all large campuses. But in the areas of the campus which are populated fairly densely, in those areas, I think security should be provided. Near the departments, near the residences, hostels, so forth. It is hard to provide security at all residential points on the campus. But if you live outside the campus, there’s only a sort of light security which may be there. What would be good is for the patrol car to go around regularly and for more patrolling to be done especially at night. It is one reason why the peripheral road of the Institute was constructed. The institute did not have that road at all, so no security vehicle could actually go around the entire periphery of the campus.
Peripheral road refers to?
The road beyond faculty residences which goes to Ramaiah is the peripheral road which goes all around [the campus]. Before that, there was nothing beyond the residences. All that activity like the centenary visitors’ house, the aerospace labs, on the far end, they all came only recently. That’s when that road was made. But still, there are large densely wooded areas over there. Certainly, I wouldn’t say that they are ideal places to go to.
3) Many students feel that the hostels are not conducive to safety because of the way they have been designed. What are your views on this?
I think many of our buildings have been designed in a much more open way now. Open buildings are nice buildings, they are airy, they are ventilated, they have good light. Unfortunately, when you do all that, you probably make ease of access for somebody with bad intentions, somewhat easier. The question of the upper floors in most of the hostels with an open balcony might be fine, but the lower floors like the ground floor, certainly an open balcony is inviting for someone who wants to come in, but the ground floors are already grilled.
Yes, but because of the level difference on two sides, the first floor is not that difficult to access.
Actually, now the thinking is that the first floor should also be grilled. It is possible always to go back and think that everything should have been done in a way different from the way it has been done. You usually become wise in hindsight. But I still think that the designs were nice, I think they were somewhat open, I think we should be able to ensure security even here by making access to the whole area difficult for people other than students. There is a wall to come around it which has not yet come, then you cannot enter it very easily. The way security is usually guaranteed is if you have only a single entry point and everybody is checked at entry. This usually does not happen in a large hostel like that, unless there is a wall around it completely. At the moment you can come in from any side. Once there is a wall around it, you can enter it only from one side. Those are the ways in which security will eventually be beefed up.
4) Are the digital accesses to the hostels or CCTV cameras being considered?
CCTV cameras are being considered. CCTV cameras, people think, are a deterrent but they are actually not, because most of the people who do these things don’t know anything about them. CCTVs are a deterrent only for the technologically savvy criminals. Such a person might figure out that he might be seen, but the kind of people who do this are not going to be deterred too much by CCTV cameras. The problem with CCTV cameras is that you will get information after the fact. If they don’t act as a deterrent, you may be able to catch people, doing things which they ought not to be doing. But I don’t know if they prevent anybody from doing anything. They act as a minor deterrent, if people are aware. As for digital access, such as swipe cards, I suppose it could work only if we have only one door. It will, to a great extent, I think, take away an element of freedom which people have always enjoyed. When it is taken away, there may be people who will now complain about it. As far as, I will tell you, administrations are concerned, it would be easiest to have a place with only a single point of entry, where everybody shows an identity card or they don’t enter. If they have left their identity cards behind somewhere, they don’t enter.
Is it difficult to implement?
I suspect it is difficult to implement. There has always been difficulty implementing discipline. At the simplest level, I can tell you, with respect to the checking identity cards when people come into the institute and not allowing vehicles which don’t have stickers to go past a point, it immediately leads to a backlash, and there are complaints.
Is the backlash from students?
From students, from everybody really. See, when you come back at night and the security doesn’t allow it, it is very easy to pick a quarrel. They are also boys in many ways, some young guys from Bihar and Orissa, who have been drafted in to the security service – this is the difficulty that you have at many of the gates, people comeback drunk. We had, one night, what I would say a drunk professor from another Institution living here who at the security gate threatened the security guard to call me in the middle of the night and demand that he be let into the institute.
Alumni come back – in fact I tell the alumni all the time that once you’ve got your degrees, you can give something to the institution; you can’t take anything from the institution and that includes all of you. Alumni are supposed to give to the Institution but all our alumni, they demand access to the swimming pool, they demand access to the grounds of the institute. It does become very difficult to impose discipline. This is why only gentle sort of procedures have been used [till now].
In principle, if the community wanted draconian discipline, there is no difficulty in imposing it. It can be imposed but then nobody should question anything. If tomorrow we say that no vehicle is to come out of the hostels because the roads are getting cluttered, you can jolly well walk, no bike, no two wheelers, nothing, only then will the number of unknown people wandering around here diminish. Anytime you are stopped and if you are asked to show your identity card, you should be able to do so. Then we also have a lot of families staying on the campus.
You can’t say that it is a badly designed campus because it was not designed, it just grew. It is a product of evolution as much as any biological organism, shaped by the environment and all the selective pressures of the surroundings operate upon it.
So, if one were to design an absolutely brand new campus, one would completely keep the academic areas and the residential areas separate. You would have the entrances to the academic areas separate from entrances to the residential areas. But that is not possible now. So I think, to some extent, one can only tighten watchfulness and security locally within the areas that need them.
Certainly the kind of incidents that have happened, I think sometimes one can also overreact to them looking for a global solution, whereas what you really need is a local solution to the specific problems of a building, or a hostel, etc. The problem in some other building somewhere else on the campus may be entirely different.
5) Many students also feel that the security staff are not sympathetic towards the students’ complaints and in many cases, are rude to them as well. What is your take on it?
You know sometimes, I’m sorry to say this, but politeness is not really a national characteristic, and in our societies, sometimes we have become used to being less than polite to people who are below us socially and economically. At times, there is also the backlash of people who aspire to a better life, sometimes being somewhat resentful also of people who they feel are doing very much better. So there are a lot of cultural tensions which are there between people of different levels.
The security staff may at times appear to be unsympathetic simply because they are uncomprehending. They don’t understand what is being said. They also pretty much don’t have a great sense of initiative because they are not totally in command. This is one of the problems of having contractual security. So I do not know of the specific instances which students have said, but if you go into each instance in detail, you may eventually find that it is like everything else which happens outside on the road. You know on the road, for example, people are not very polite to each other. Are they? They’re not. I think it is very difficult to say this because we have a large population of students, I don’t believe all the students will be as polite as one another. There is a large number of security staff, some of them will be polite, and some of them may not be polite.
There was a very interesting article in the newspaper on a group of auto rickshaw drivers who call themselves the ‘polite auto rickshaw drivers’, they’re carrying some signs, putting it so that the entire community of auto rickshaw drivers is not blamed for what some of them are doing. I am sure we might have some very good and helpful contractual security; it is hard for me to comment. If you see an impolite professor, it doesn’t mean that all the professors are impolite, but I’m sure there may be. I’m sure there are impolite students, are they? There must be, no? It will be roughly the same proportion statistically.
6) In the light of the recent security lapses, what measures are being taken to ensure that such lapses do not occur again?
Well, the usual things are being done, things are being tightened up because we now know what happened in specific instances, and those things cannot happen again. There will be more visible security, and also very prompt action has been taken in taking the individual who committed the crime to punishment, so certainly the word is out that nothing will go unpunished, so that is actually one of the first steps in deterrents. But at the same time, we should prevent people from doing things rather than react afterwards. So I think the security, the lighting, the walls, all of that will come, the grills will also come. But what happens in all of this is that exactly the same thing cannot happen again, but that doesn’t mean something else cannot happen. There is no substitute for being, as a community, alert to a potential problem, and it should be pointed out if there is a potential problem, so that something can be done. We will need everybody’s cooperation.
If as a student I feel that this particular area should have better lighting, or if I find an area unsafe, what should I do?
Then you should tell.
There I have absolutely no problem, you can send a mail or meet people and tell. One of the persons to be told if it is in the area of the hostels is Prof. Umanand. The other person you can tell it to is any of the other wardens if you see them. You can also tell Prof. Balakrishnan or you can tell me. Because if you know the amount of time that we spend afterwards cleaning up… The one thing that both Prof. Balakrishnan and I find difficult to deal with is casual emails sent by somebody who doesn’t even bother to take the trouble of coming to see you. You know that something is there because then someone says that an area is badly lit and I’ll say where, and ask you to walk with me, then I can immediately see or I can send somebody to go and see it immediately – that kind of thing is better, i.e., you tell someone. You can actually tell any of the senior people that this is the problem and can you please look at it, then you know whom you have told it to. There’s no point in sending an email to the Registrar, there’s no point in writing it in the complaint book if you want it seriously to be tackled immediately, because the people who are there at that level looking at complaint books aren’t going to take you seriously. Now if you tell me there is a place which is very badly lit, somewhere where I feel that you ought not to go, I will tell you that, whereas if you show me a place which is badly lit which ought not to be badly lit…
For example this very road in front of your office, which is a pedestrian and bicycle only road, is very poorly lit.
Yes, this is a problem with the lights, I don’t know how many lights there are on that road. But in principle, that is very easy to fix, if one wants more lights there or one wants more security guys to be wandering around there, that’s easy enough to fix. But I’m not so sure, you know, I also go around. It is quite possible that I react much less. I walk around and I find that many other people who walk around complain a lot more than I do. But then, they haven’t had the experiences of spending much of their life outside campus.
The real world has nobody to complain to. So I think that one should look after one’s own surroundings to some extent a little bit and bring things to the attention of authorities. But yes, if the students want more light, say, on this road, then it could look like an illuminated football ground, if it makes people happy. Then, along will come another email telling me that you’re wasting power, from one of the energy conservers.
So are you suggesting that the campus is as safe as the outside?
I can’t say that because safety depends on how you measure it. If you look at the number of incidents, I don’t think the campus is any more unsafe than the outside or is probably slightly safer because access is restricted. Even when something happens, it is usually someone from within the campus.
The argument on who is within the campus is a different one. Even in the incidents that have happened, until somebody is caught, it is not possible for us to take a view on who it is, it could be anybody. This is the difficulty that we confront.
7) Whenever any complaint is made, how frequently are the police called in to investigate the matter? What criteria are employed to judge whether a complaint requires outside intervention?
We very rarely call the police to investigate because sometimes, in matters which involve students, we are reluctant, actually, to immediately call [the police], without doing an internal assessment of what the problem is. We have had cases where, in principle, the police should have been involved, but I think eventually by not involving the police we have been able to get everybody involved in the incident back on with their lives. As far as possible, we have always adopted a very cautious approach to involving the police except in cases of theft. Where there is theft from the department or theft from somewhere, yes, police is involved.
8) If the police is called in more frequently, do you think that would serve as a deterrent for these crimes?
I don’t think it’s wise to call the police in; there’s enough crime in the city and the police do not act as a deterrent. It would be naive to expect that would happen. And I think the frequency of calling the police should not be too much because if you call the police for every minor thing, then the level of police who will come in here will be lower and lower and lower because they are also overburdened.
So the seriousness of the complaint will be lost?
Yes, they are overburdened with so much. I think educated, highly privileged communities like what is there in the institute should also sometimes recognize the constraints under which, for example, our police force functions – there are few policemen, far more wrongdoers, teeming populations, disorganised cities. So they do have a lot of work and a local police station is not the most ideal place to go to and make small complaints. If it’s a major complaint, then yes. But in cases which have involved exclusively only students, we have somehow taken the view that we will not involve the police as far as possible.