On the afternoon of January 13 this year, I went to the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (NMML) at Teen Murti Bhavan in central Delhi, with a friend to find out the procedure of getting a library membership card. I am an Mphil student in the Academy of International Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, and I thought a library membership in one of the most reputed research centres in the country could help me with my research.
On my visit there, I found it to be a calm and interesting place for research and scholarly interactions. My friend and I walked into the library. I asked the person at the counter how to get a new membership card. She told me that I would need a letter signed by the head of the centre where I studied. Since I did not have any such letter with me at the time, my friend and I walked out of the library to have lunch at the library canteen.
After we finished our lunch and came out of the canteen, I saw NMML’s museum building next to the library. Since my friend and I have never been inside the museum, we thought it was a good opportunity to see it from the inside now that we were already there.
As we walked towards the museum, we noticed that a few men stood guard near the museum’s entrance. A couple of them were in uniform and the rest in plain clothes.
One of the security officials in plain clothes approached us as we reached the entrance to the museum. He asked us what we were doing there. I told him that we came to find out about the procedure of becoming a library member. He then told us that we are not allowed inside the museum as it remains closed on Mondays. We told him we were not aware of this.
He then asked us who we were. We told them that we were students. He asked us where we studied. I told him that I studied in Jamia Millia Islamia, and my friend said that he studied in JNU. He then asked us which state we come from. We told him that we both were from Jammu & Kashmir. He then called a security guard in uniform to check our bags. The guard went through our bags and gave it back to us after finding nothing.
Then, out of the two of us, the security official in plain clothes asked to see my Jamia student identity card. So I took it out of my wallet and showed it to him. He then told me that he will make a photocopy of my ID. My friend and I were surprised to hear that because we didn’t see a point in keeping a copy of my ID card. My friend told the man that we didn’t know the museum was closed on Mondays and now that we know, we’ll simply leave; so what’s the need to go through the whole process of making a photocopy. But the man didn’t listen to him and told us that it was part of the security rules at the museum. He passed my ID card to the security guard who then went away in the direction of the library to get a copy made.
While my friend and I waited for the security guard to return with my student ID card, the guard in plain clothes walked around the museum. We sensed that he was checking to make sure we didn’t purposefully leave anything near the museum walls.
We expected the man, after being satisfied that he didn’t find anything suspicious around the walls of the museum, would walk right back to us. But instead he stood and chatted with the other officials outside the museum. The other men kept eyeing us as the man in plain clothes presumably spoke about us to them. My friend and I were feeling uneasy standing there, knowing that the officials had fixed their gaze on us and were presumably talking about us.
I walked up to a security guard in uniform at a distance and asked him if the museum is closed on Mondays. He told me that it was and that no visitors were allowed. I also asked him the name of the guard in plain clothes. He gave me his first name. I further asked him why they require keeping photocopies of visitors’ ID cards; he told me that he didn’t know anything about it.
A lot of questions came to my mind: Is it a crime to see the museum from the outside? Is every person who stands outside the museum gate on the ‘wrong day’ interrogated like I was, or am I an exception? And if so, then why? Is it because I am a Muslim, studying in a Muslim university, who comes from the conflict-ridden state of J & K?
About 15-20 minutes had passed, when the security guard, who had gone to make a photocopy of my ID card, came back. Seeing him back, the man in plain clothes came back to me and my friend. He told me not to take it the wrong way since it was part of the security procedure. But because their security concerns made me uncomfortable, I told him that I felt miserable for being interrogated this way. In response, he simply gave me back my ID card and walked away. My friend and I left the compound immediately.
Walking out of a place where people from several world-renowned academic institutions meet and talk about issues of national and international significance, and hold seminars and discussions on topics such as democracy, political and civil rights of a citizen such as right to dignity, I for one felt harassed and humiliated.
I have no issue with showing my ID card to authorities. But I feel insecure when I feel I am being ethnically profiled. Can the state give me an assurance that in cases of security threats to the state, the photocopy of my ID card will not be used to single me out because of my religious and cultural identity?