Tête-à-tête with the Security Office

After the institute wide Moodle survey on Security, Vigilance, Moral-Policing And Student Well-Being, InsIghT spoke to officers at the Security Office – IITB.InsIghT will be presenting student concerns for deliberation to the Standing Advisory Committee on security, a special 15-member body convened by the Director with two student representatives

Short excerpts from the interview:

InsIghT: Thank you for providing us with this opportunity.
Security Office: Thank you. The security office is extremely grateful for the survey you have floated. We think it is a wonderful idea and a job we probably should have ourselves done.

I: Thank you. Starting off, can you please tell us about the functions of the Security Office at IIT Bombay?

SO: It is responsible for the campus’ security both internally as well as externally. Some of our duties are highly visible, for example manning the campus gates, hostels and the academic area. We are responsible for the well-being of the students and campus residents in matters of law and order. We are the first points of contact in the case of thefts, misplaced objects, chain-snatching or bag-grabbing by motorists, misconduct, etc.

I: How does the vigilance unit figure in this?

SO: The vigilance team of 8 personnel deals with cases of theft, possession of illegal objects, student movement in restricted areas or when a student is in trouble on or outside campus.It is a stressful job, and the unit has been largely successful. Very recently, a case of theft was tracked down all the way to Kanpur and the object was returned to the owner, a student here. We are very fortunate to enjoy Mumbai Police’s co-operation all the time.

I: Can you tell us about a few of the challenges you face in the job?

SO: IIT Bombay’s population witnesses rapid flux, particularly these days; with the rapid construction work, we have a lot of outsiders on campus as well. The challenges we face are usually those pertaining to miscreants entering the campus, thefts, etc. Sometimes students are un-cooperative, when they view us as a hindrance to their freedom. Other challenges definitely include protection from animals, particularly wild animals.

I: Students often get mails about panther sightings from your office. Can you shed some light on how the situation is monitored? How do panthers enter a fenced campus?

SO: Panthers enter the campus by jumping onto branches over fences. We have identified spots and installed CCTV cameras, which is how we monitor the situation. Many people complain to us about the presence of dogs on campus. Let me share an interesting fact with you. The presence of dogs on campus is what has stopped these panthers from turning into man-eaters all these years. Of course, this is not linked to the action taken in respect to the canine situation here.

I: Can you clarify what areas are restricted to students?

SO: As you know, lakeside behind Kshitij-H7 and hillside-Sameer are banned after 6pm until 6am. That apart, sometimes we restrict movement on the H8 – H13 stretch, in-front of H10 and on the Guest House premises after 11pm. On the H8 – H13 stretch, we sometimes speed up movement when we have panther alerts.

I: Why is it mandatory to carry ID cards within campus?

SO: As I said, the campus sees a huge visitor flux. We need to often ascertain, specially after nightfall, whether someone is a genuine IITian. It is a potential security threat to have outsiders roaming in, and we have caught a huge many such cases. So we make it mandatory to carry ID cards and expect to be able to verify your identity on demand.

I: Why do the security personnel sometimes detain the ID card? Isn’t just noting down the roll number enough?

SO: We sometimes detain it on suspicion of ID card fraud. At other times, we detain it to ensure the concerned student reports to the office in cases requiring follow up. We try to minimise such cases to the extent possible.

I: If a plainclothesman claiming to be from the vigilance demands my ID card, what could/should I do?

SO: You could verify his identity. Even after that, you could call the Duty Officer of the shift to ascertain the genuineness. The Officer on Duty is always informed of such cases in real-time and can be contacted for such confirmations at any time. The hotline is 9167398596.

I: Vigilance personnel often enter hostel rooms at odd hours for searches. What is the procedure for them to be authorized to conduct this?

SO: Every happening on campus relating to its security is comprehensively reported to the Chief Security Officer. The Vigilance Team has written permission from the DoSA and the CSO to conduct searches in hostel rooms in case of suspicion. However, if the student desires, he can inquire with the Duty Officer on the hotline to ascertain for himself.

I: Why do security personnel ask couples to move away from certain spots after nightfall, as many have told us?

SO: This is often seen as moral policing, but it is done for the safety of the couple involved if the ‘spot’ is dark and isolated. The campus is not as safe as students would like to think. We have recorded many instances where campus residents themselves have been involved in varying degrees of highly offensive behaviour. We hence take certain minimum precautions on a case to case basis, and this is one of them.

I: Why are students sometimes restricted from visiting the Guest House – H10 square or the Guest House premises after 11pm?

SO: The Guest House often plays host to eminent scientists, secretaries of ministries, etc. Students are often loud and boisterous there. This is why we restrict movement there. As far as the Guest House – H10 square is concerned, we have received numerous requests from H10 inmates to do so. Additionally, the placement office located there has a lot of sensitive documents, and any mischief will immediately point suspicion towards the student. All this must be avoided. We still treat these restrictions on a day-to-day basis though.

I: What is the procedure followed when a student (who claims to be a student at IITB) is without his ID Card at the Main Gate?

SO: After preliminary verification through a few basic questions, we do let the student enter. We are trying to institute better procedures. Once the Main Gate is renovated by the end of the year, there are plans to install computers where one can log in with his LDAP Id to prove identity.

I: Thank you, sir. Finally, can you please share some thoughts on your experience at this job here?

SO: Haha, as I say, it is quite a stressful job, with many brickbats. But at the end of the day it is very satisfying. Particularly so, when parents and so many students at their convocation or afterwards come to us to personally thank us, for what they call “pulling them off destructive paths”. Recently, an alumnus gave a particular security personnel a return ticket to Singapore to attend his marriage.

That apart, one thing to realize is that the freedom students enjoy is far greater from that in other campuses in the country. We realize its importance, and do believe that this freedom is what makes our campus warm to its inmates, and this is indeed a major factor in the success of ensuring the campus sees no untoward incidents like suicides for the past decade.

I: Thank you so very much for spending time with us and giving us valuable insights.

SO: Thank you. Again, we are extremely happy to reach out to student concerns. Students can at anytime call up the Duty Officer at 9167398596.