The police have been keeping a close eye on colleges in the city ever since unrest broke out at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the University of Hyderabad.
Since the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula in January and the arrests of student leaders Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar in March, which also sparked protests in Mumbai, many college principals say they have received calls from the police.
Policemen have also visited many campuses in this period, according to reports.
The telephone calls are invariably about “student activism” and the perceived threat from it.
Soumyo Mukherji, dean of student affairs at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-B) said, “I received a call from the police earlier this year, seeking information about students from our institute who were participating in the protests in the UoH and JNU. I had no idea.”
Mukherji said the police wanted to know whether there was a student unrest on IIT-B’s Powai campus.
“This is a residential campus where students regularly travel home or any other place. There’s no way we can keep a tab on their movements. I explained this to the police and never got a call back from them,” he added.
Tata Institute of Social Studies (TISS) in Deonar is another institute that seems to be under police watch.
In February, after students from the institute participated in meetings to show their support to JNU and UoH students, members of the students’ union Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad had made a public statement against “brewing activism” on college campuses and specifically mentioned the TISS. This led the management to inform police about the alleged threat and the institute said this led to increased police vigilance.
Recently, TISS students were upset after the institute decided against the service renewal of two professors, citing funds crunch.
Students felt that the professors were punished for being vocal about social issues. Many students, who took part in protests on and off the campus, are worried that they could be targeted.
“I won’t be surprised if the police show up at my doorstep one day and brands me an activist because I demanded justice for a fellow student. It is a scary thought,” said a TISS student. “If having an opinion can be termed activism, then there’s something terribly wrong with the system in place,” said a research scholar at the institute.
Some colleges have faced police vigilance earlier. After an oil spill in the sea near Mumbai in 2011, students at St Xavier’s College, Dhobi Talao, had protested against ‘negligence’ by the oil companies.
“Our students were fighting for the safety of the environment and yet they were rounded up by the police and questioned about their intentions. While the police think it is okay to suppress ‘unwanted activism’ on college campus, students see it as obstruction of their rights,” said a professor.