A resounding, “Sasta Chhatravaas Leke Rahenge!“(Affordable accommodation is our right and we shall have it!), reverberated across the corridors of Hindu College on August 3.
What started as a demand for a women’s hostel in the year 2007 has led to a series of events that have ended up in exposing the larger political implications of privatisation of the University. Confused? Read on.
After 117 years of the college’s existence, Hindu College finally took cognisance to the fact that women’s participation in the University had gone up, and that it requires infrastructural support to ensure that women are not discouraged from receiving education on the grounds of the lack of accommodation.
Despite having attained funding of Rs 82 lakh from the UGC in March 2012, Hindu College did not construct a hostel for women! Failing to put to use the funds allocated to them in the stipulated time frame, their funding lapsed. Last year when after being embroiled in controversy, the hostel somehow came into being. Even so, the fee was an exorbitant amount, the rules of the hostel directed women to be dressed in accordance of the ‘norms of society’ and the capacity of the women’s college was to contain only 156 students that too on a twin-sharing basis, while the boys’ hostel has 119 rooms. This resulted in a backlash from the student community, last year, hence stalling the process of admission.
The matter was taken up by Pinjra Tod, who had intimated the Delhi Commission for Women, which later summoned the principal and asked the college to address the discriminatory nature of regulations and fee structure that was made binding on women. DCW also wrote to the UGC asking the college funds, so the college doesn’t extract it from students in the name of providing ‘state-of-the-art’ facilities.
The Hindu College administration, having waited a year for the heat on the matter to go down, has reopened admission with the fees still more than double of the boys hostel, were women students shall pay Rs. 90,000 annually, while male students pay around Rs. 50,000. Knowing that their move shall once again cause students to speak up, the administration has been carried out in an arbitrary and surreptitious way, by sending new students separate mails to students, after many second and third year students had already settled their accommodation for the year.
Presently, we are told that an admission process into the hostel happened in a discreet way. No formal announcement was made, and it is unknown to students, on what grounds have the 30-40 seats in the hostel been allocated. A protesting student said, “While the information regarding the men’s hostel (break-up of fees, prospectus, notice for admission, various committees and so on) is clearly available on the college website, the same is not true for the women’s hostel – which has only the admission form on the website. Students received the handbook of information and fee structure via email only after they submitted the admission form. This information has never been displayed publicly.”
Upon being questioned, Anju Srivastava, the Principal of Hindu College exclaimed, “The boys’ hostel gets funds from the UGC, while the girl’s hostel does not. The hostel requires funds to be run — and this is the only way to generate them. Also, the women’s hostel is fully air-conditioned.” It is embarrassing to see that the college administration resorted to self-victimisation citing a largely dubious ‘self-financed’ model as an excuse, when it was a clear lapse on their part to have not utilised the funds in the first place, leading to the delayed process of construction which lasted 6 years!
“Hostel Fee Must Fall! ‘Gender Tax’ Nahi Chalega!”
Much to the students frustration – after repeated rounds of negotiation with the students, DCW and the UGC – students and teachers of Hindu College resorted to holding a protest demonstration outside the Principal’s Office on August 3 for the right of women students to affordable accommodation. The Principal refused to meet the protesting students, whose RTIs too have not gotten responses to, in fact the questions regarding issues of transparency of fund allocation were dismissed as ‘ambiguous’ in nature.
It was reiterated by the protesters that by citing the installation of ACs as an excuse for the high fee, doesn’t hold ground since it is the State’s responsibility to provide for public education and this burden should not be shifted onto students. To be sure, UGC provides Rs 60 lakh a year for the maintenance of the boys’ hostel. The DCW chief, Swati Maliwal, has now sought an appointment from the HRD Minister, Prakash Javadekar and the UGC chairman to discuss the matter further.
It is here, then that one has to critically probe the excuses cited by the administration before falling for them. Pinjra Tod explains how Hindu college’s case is not an isolated one. This raises the larger issue of how because of the move towards privatisation of education since liberalisation, women students are being made to pay for the historical oppression of women. Earlier university spaces were dominated by men. Most boys hostels were built at a time when the UGC provided funds for construction, and these hostels still receive annual maintenance grants. Most women’s hostels have been built in the last 10-20 years, when the number of women students in the university has drastically increased.
Can it not then be said that the University still remains a space which builds on exclusions, as it is effectively denying access to education to women who cannot pay the high fees demanded by the college? It is not a profitable institute where the rules of the market should apply, wherein if you cannot afford the hostel, you can go elsewhere. What options do women have left, except to then get entangled in the nexus of PGs and landlords that are free to exercise ‘discretion’ while allotting, evicting, and regulating the women they choose to lend a house to?
To sum it up in the words of an alumnus of Hindu who was a part of yesterday’s protest, “Yeh Public University hai, koi sabzi mandi nahi ki sasti sabzi chahiye toh aage bhado!” (This is a Public University, not a vegetable market where if you cannot afford to purchase something, you move onto the next counter!).
All pictures courtesy Pinjra Tod