Snooping, it appears, has got to be one of the most intrinsic Indian attributes, where everyone, from your parents and neighbours to the government, takes immense pleasure in peeping into our personal lives. The problem is that while you can always chastise your parents to the brink of guilt, it’s hard to do that when the country’s authorities don’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with that. So it’s troubling when news came out of authorities giving explicit directives to top Indian cops to monitor university campuses, and breach data privacy by spying on WhatsApp groups.
This series of directives were given out at a recent annual conference in Pune, which was attended by top police officers from across India, and addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. One of the Directors General of Police (DGPs) present at the meeting anonymously told The Indian Express that top cops will have to be “in touch with the student community” and “to have prior knowledge of any potentially sensitive situation and prepare for it”. “We should not be caught in a situation where someone springs a surprise on us,” said the source.
Another IPS officer, however, told The Indian Express that monitoring WhatsApp conversations is “standard” policing practice. “At every level, we make sure our people are part of WhatsApp groups run by different political parties, by those of right-wing and left-wing thought, of Muslims, Dalits, trade and labour unions, students and other organisations and bodies planning protests or demonstrations,” the unnamed official told the publication.
And not just this. At the conference that took place between December 6 and 8, the cops were also asked to keep their eyes and ears glued to everything from tweets and retweets “to analyse public mood”, to “hate speech”, to more police deployment in schools, and ensuring student visits to police stations, etc.
Last year in November, the government allegedly used Israeli spyware to snoop on at least 20 Indian journalists and activists just before the general elections (which brought back PM Modi for the second consecutive year), triggering a massive outrage about citizen’s privacy and data breach. In fact, the digital space has been one of the most volatile and heavily surveilled spaces in India for a while now, where the government does everything from arresting and detaining people for social media posts, to blocking the internet entirely to allegedly avoid civil unrest.
But the latest directive could possibly be linked to the most recent cases of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and police crackdowns and violence at university campuses, especially the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Millia University in Delhi, and Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh—which have now led to a nationwide show of resistance. And the fact that Indian universities have traditionally been the safe spaces where dissent has been nurtured and spread beyond their boundary walls—peaking as it did over the last two months of anti-CAA agitations—is enough to know why and how the latest initiative by the police forces could spell trouble for resistance.
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