By Ankitha Cheerakathil
Earlier this year, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi approved a plan to install 1.4 lakh CCTV cameras in government schools in a bid to improve student safety. The move drew widespread flak from many quarters, including the Delhi High Court and the people of Delhi.
For the people of Delhi, many of whom were ardent supporters of the Indian Against Corruption movement and had voted the AAP into power in, disappointment with the movement apparently becoming just another political party is difficult to dispel. This was not what they had wanted. This was not what the movement, and AAP, had offered. The movement was always supposed to be a Utopian rise in arms against corruption in India. How could become something as ordinary and prone to mistakes as the AAP?
No wonder then that is has become common for Delhiites to criticise the AAP government. But does the CCTV proposal deserve for such outright opposition?
Over the years, the AAP has done much to deserve its negative image. For instance, protests seem the way to go for the party, most recently resulting in the dharna (sit-in protest) at the Lieutenant Governor’s house. But the Delhi government also tends to receive a lot of extra flak for flaws in administrative functioning that most political parties are susceptible to.
No one can be particularly in favor of being monitored by a camera all the time. When security checks first became a norm at public spaces like shopping malls and cinemas, patrons complained of the discomfort and violation of privacy. But now, one merely grits their teeth and moves past the discomfort having understood that security checks in such enclosed areas are needed for the larger public’s safety.
To begin to understand the reasoning behind the government’s proposal, one needs to have some understanding of what it is like in a government school. In Delhi’s government schools, children are generally a secondary consideration to bureaucratic obligations and the whims of its administration. Issues of teacher absenteeism, harassment (both verbal and physical), and sexual assaults are rife. During the course of my fieldwork in government schools in Delhi, I have spotted girls’ toilets without doors, students left unsupervised in their classrooms for long periods of time by teachers, and strangers trespassing on school campuses. These were but a few of the most ostentatious indicators of an unsafe environment that I spotted in my brief experience with these schools. I was left with the sense that I would have seen much more if I had continued to observe the school campuses longer.
Many first world countries have installed cameras inside school buildings for the safety of their students, a point made by Sanjoy Ghosh, Additional Standing Counsel for the Delhi government, during the court hearing. And there have been several reports of public schools in the US installing security cameras inside their campuses. But there certainly are differences between installing CCTV cameras inside classrooms and having them at strategic points inside school campuses.
“A CCTV camera inside the classroom is not ideal, as it can interfere in the healthy relationship between teachers and students. But installing them outside the entrance gates of schools and outside classroom doors can go a long way in resolving important issues like ensuring the physical safety of children from trespassers and keeping a tab on teacher absenteeism,” argued the principal of a Delhi government school, who wishes to remain unnamed.
Advocate Jai Dehadrai, representing petitioner Daniel George at High Court, said the constant scrutiny through CCTVs in classrooms would leave a psychological impact on the children, apart from leading to concerns of voyeurism and stalking.
But this argument indicates a willful ignorance of the actual circumstances in these institutions. If we are to have a serious discussion on the negative psychological impact on children in government schools, it is pertinent to recall the many instances of sexual abuse and corporal punishment that occur as a consequence of the lack of supervision in these environments. These incidents have been well documented by the media and are a probable factor behind the government’s proposal in the first place.
The outright protest against the installation of CCTV cameras in Delhi government schools exposes the willful ignorance of the very real issues faced by children in these schools, and the actual circumstances of these institutions. The High Court hearing on July 11 ended with the state education department being asked to submit a report laying out the reasons behind the proposal. Until the government tables this report, it is a good idea to give the proposal credit where it is due. Otherwise, one runs the risk of sounding entitled at best.
Ankitha Cheerakathil is the Executive Director of Foundation for Community Consensus, the Indian entity of the Prague-based think tank Institute for Democracy 21.
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