CCTV Surveillance in Delhi Government Schools is Turning Them into an Orwellian Nightmare

We have become susceptible to being manipulated by big corporates and political parties. No aspects of our lives are truly private, the data age has continued to put us at a greater risk of surveillance.

The decision of the AAP government to broadcast live CCTV footages of government schools and make them accessible to parents is a significant step towards creating an Orwellian society. This decision, which has been presented under the garb of ‘accountability’ in government schools, is actually a political decision. Faced with repeated onslaughts by the party ruling at the Centre, this decision by the AAP government is in fact a way to “showcase” and “impress” its work upon the population of Delhi, to bring the ‘good work’ of the government to the citizens of Delhi. But in the garb of ‘accountability’, this decision will only normalize, legitimize and strengthen the surveillance state in the name of security.We are already faced with a situation where technology in the form of internet and social media applications have turned a huge chunk of the population into mere spectators and passive/non-reflexive recipients of information. We have become susceptible to being manipulated by big corporates and political parties. No aspects of our lives are truly private, the data age has continued to put us at a greater risk of surveillance.

In this context, the decision to broadcast clips from classroom to guardians is a misdirected step, especially by a government which has done a commendable job in the education sector.  Now onward, the kids in these classrooms will  live with the  fear of surveillance by their parents. They will live under this possibility that every act of theirs is being watched/documented and stored as evidence against them. This decision will have several unintended consequences which will have implications for the development of children.

Do you remember the great pleasure which you derived in your classrooms with small acts of mischiefs you caused? Do you remember the chaos and chalk fights which ensued in interregnum between two classes or all the back-bencher fun and the front-desk anxieties? Do you remember all the scribbling you and your friends did on your desks, or those punishments?  All these acts which can be summed up in one word, ‘indiscipline’, are the things which often define a good part of our school life. How essential these acts of ‘indiscipline’ are for the growth of human individual can be gleaned from the very fact that often friendships are not formed in midst of disciplinary reading and studying, but instead they are forged amid chaos, mischiefs and chitchat. These acts of ‘indiscipline’ are the base upon which we as human being get nostalgic and take a walk down the memory lane remembering the good old school days.

The proposed surveillance will only work towards curtailing those activities and will only lead to deprivation of what school days are also about- except taking classes and notes and paying attention. This decision of  the Delhi government to export the activities of children in classrooms to their homes will only instil fear of repercussion in them. They will be under constant threat of being questioned about trivial acts which they do in class with their friends. Consider this very fact that in contemporary times; the rising competition and declining opportunities coupled with a straitjacket educational methodology,  already causes a great deal of anxiety among parents about the career prospect of their children. This anxiety gets transformed into pressure upon children, which gets magnified during exam times. Now, with the possibility of everyday surveillance, the anxiety of parents will have the possibility of getting magnified if they find their ward doing something else than studying, which will lead to a situation where children will be facing pressure situation from their parents on a daily basis.

The proposed CCTV surveillance will only work to deprive school children from the small joys and adventures of classroom, without providing any solution for ‘violence’. It is to be noted that teen violence is seldom pre-planned and calculated, rather it is the result of sudden emotional outburst, which cannot be stopped by the threat of surveillance. There is a need to understand the balance between total discipline and total freedom.

If the government and policy makers are really concerned about tackling the rising cases of school violence, they must pay attention to the socio-economic and political environment which makes such violence possible. To a great extent, the source of teen violence lies in the anxieties caused by a culture industry comprising of media, cinema, TV series, games, politics, etc. which eulogize “masculinity” and denounce “femininity” and celebrate violence. The source of teen and youth violence should be located in estrangement created in them due to unbridled consumption of western moral codes and culture through cinematic mediums and being brought up through traditional Indian moral codes, which naturally puts a limit on the ‘freedoms’ experienced in west. The continuously growing discourse of ‘bhartiya sanskriti’ (Indian culture) and continuous bombardment of western cultural moors generates a serious psychological conflict in the consumer, especially among the youth. If the Delhi government and other policy makers are seriously concerned about tackling the growing cases of brutal violence, they must look beyond the technocratic approach.

Harshvardhan is a Research Scholar at JNU, New Delhi.


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