Hostels are in the news. Be it for students across universities coming together to fight for the right to hostel accommodation or residents speaking out about their hostels. Residential spaces for students are generating a debate. I am a resident of the Hall of Girls Residence in Jamia Millia Islamia. On September 28, Prakash Javadekar, Union Human Resource Development Minister visited Jamia to inaugurate a new hostel.
A priority for students who leave their hometowns for higher education is to secure hostel accommodation. Hostel accommodations on campus are cheaper and safer compared to other housing options available for students. Getting a hostel in Jamia is not easy as only 10% of students are selected for the same. The process is rigorous and it includes a personal interview at the last stage. I have felt many times that such a meticulous selection process is aimed at making the students feel lucky and grateful.
Personal interviews are part of the admission process of hostels. I don’t know about the process in the Hall of Boys Residence, but sexism is evident when the personal interviews for women students take place. It all starts with lines like, “As you are a girl, hostel accommodation on campus is safer for you.” It was during one of these interviews that a friend of mine started arguing with the interviewer after being questioned about the clothes she was wearing.
Few weeks after that interview, I got a seat in the hostel but my friend did not. Many others did not make it as well because they were not wearing clothes considered ‘ideal’. It is important to mention here that there is no official dress code on the campus or inside the hostels. The controversy surrounding what women should wear does not stop here. Women are questioned by the caretakers about their clothes and make-up when they leave their hostel premises. Some of them point out how they are like our parents. My parents have never questioned me about the clothes that I wear.
Recently, a few incidents took place which shook my belief in the idea of being safe in hostels. A few days ago, a resident in one of the hostels fell ill and fainted. It took more than two hours for the ambulance to reach the women’s hostel to take her to a hospital. Meanwhile, the warden did not use her personal car to take her there. Instead, she conveniently waited for the ambulance to arrive. Do parents respond to emergency situations like this?
At the time of admission to hostels, a woman must register two local guardians. A male guardian has to be married. But unmarried women who are working are also accepted as guardians. In another incident, a woman who had very high fever wasn’t allowed to leave the hostel at 8:30 p.m. as the curfew timing is 8:00 p.m. The ‘safety guidelines’ of our hostel required the local guardian to pick her up. It wasn’t possible since they didn’t live nearby. During admission, everyone is made to sign an affidavit where it is clarified that the hostel takes no responsibility for any damage or loss to the students in or outside the hostel. Why do we have curfew timings then? Our safety, I presume!
For our ‘safety’, male family members are not allowed to enter the hostel premises under any circumstances whatsoever. However, one can see dozens of male workers everywhere in the women’s hostels. They sometimes enter the rooms without even asking for permission and can often be seen roaming in the corridors. The canteen inside the hostel premises also has male workers. Women are advised to wear ‘proper clothes’ in front of them. This takes place even though a café called Dastarkhwan, on the main campus near the central library, is run exclusively by women. Yet, it is interesting how they need men to run a canteen inside the women’s hostel.
Till very recently, students found guilty of not conforming to any of these guidelines were warned thrice. This was followed by a show cause notice. Nowadays, students are being served show cause notices without any warnings. Ironically, this strictness supposedly came after a few women from our Hall of Residence protested against the curfew timings last year by writing an article for Youth Ki Awaaz. The post was published anonymously. It triggered a nationwide student struggle called Pinjra Tod, which protests against sexist hostel rules for women students across the country.
The hostel rules at Jamia need to be re-examined. I would like to state here that the need to write anonymously showcases a fear of selective persecution.The hostel residents are made to sign a document at the time of admission that prohibits them from taking part in any student activism or campaign.