By Pinjra Tod:
Editor’s Note: Prakash Javadekar, the Union Minister of Human Resource Development, is visiting Jamia Millia Islamia’s new Girls’ residence hall, Begum Hazrat Mahal Hostel, for its official inauguration on September 28. Especially for the inauguration, the University has made it mandatory for women who aren’t on leave to be present in the hostel from 1 p.m. onward. The University has various regressive rules for women hostelers and also allegedly does not comply with University Grants Commission’s circular which prohibits imposing discriminatory rules on women students in hostels on the pretext of safety. A few students from Pinjra Tod: Break the Hostel Locks, an autonomous collective effort to ensure secure, affordable and non-discriminatory accommodation for women students across Delhi, have penned an open letter to voice their dissent regarding the same.
We have been duly informed that you are going to visit the Begum Hazrat Mahal Hostel, erstwhile known as the New Hall of Girl’s Residence for its official inauguration. The announcement of your visit has also been accompanied by numerous changes in the already regressive rules of the hostel, as even stricter restrictions have been imposed to regulate the mobility of women residents. The hostel administration is keen to adhere to your government’s ideology of repressing and controlling women’s freedom.
In light of your visit, we have been told that we are not allowed to take any kind of leave from September 26 to September 28. Also, it has been made compulsory for all the residents to attend the event and to behave like “good girls”. People who fail to show up will be issued a show cause notice and have been warned that they might even be thrown out of the hostel. There will be attendance in the beginning of the programme and also in the end of it to make sure that no girl “runs” away in between.
The wardens have advised us to show a sense of “ownership” towards the hostel which is a contradictory statement given the fact that we are constantly reminded of how lucky we are to have a hostel seat and how they have done a huge favour by granting us our right to accommodation. The recent interviews for the readmission of students who have already been staying at the hostel for a year was another dramatic affair where 90% of the girls have been put under 3-6 months observation for not participating in the programmes organised in the hostel like Swachta Diwas, Yoga Day and salad–making competition. Participation in these events was declared mandatory by the authorities and was apparently a criterion to be fulfilled in order to get readmitted into the hostel. The girls have also been questioned regarding the number of leaves they have taken despite the fact that there was no cap on leaves ever mentioned in the prospectus. The already persistent issue of regressive curfew timings for the girls’ hostel has taken a new turn with the frequent issuing of show cause notices to students who arrive late by just five-ten minutes. According to the rules, a student is to be expelled from the hostel after she has been given three show cause notices.
Women students in the hostel are now also being questioned about the kind of clothes they wear and character assassination and moral policing has become a common occurrence in the hostels. Because of the curfew, women students have been denied basic academic opportunities and access to the main campus reading hall and its resources. Late nights, which are denied to the students of the old hostel is another measure to restrict the mobility of women students. In addition to that, the hostel authorities have sprung up a new rule – in order to get a leave from the hostel, they need to have a text message sent by their father stating the time and place of their stay outside the hostel. No official circular has been released regarding this rule. Along with this, there is no provision for basic medical facilities like ambulance, first aid boxes or any health clinic available in the hostel. If a woman student falls sick after the curfew time, she is told to either call her local guardian, regardless of how far they live, or stay in the hostel until 7 AM the next morning. When women students are denied their basic accessibility rights and resources available to them, the university is violating the fundamental rights of 50% of the students studying in the campus.
Sir, are you aware of the University Grants Commission (Prevention, prohibition and redressal of sexual harassment of women employees and students in higher educational institutions) Regulations 2015, issued on May 2 2016 by your own Ministry? Here is the circular, which according to your own ministry’s regulations, is supposed to be binding on all universities. The UGC Regulations clearly state that “concern for safety of women students must not be cited to impose discriminatory rules for women in the hostels as compared to male students. Campus safety policies should not result in securitisation, such as over monitoring or policing or curtailing the freedom of movement, especially of women employees and students.” The notification also directs university authorities to immediately constitute autonomously functioning ICCs (Internal Complaints Committee), information about which is to be circulated to all students and employees. Student representatives in ICCs are to be “elected through transparent democratic procedure”. The Regulations mandate that top priority is given to construction of women’s hostels; and infrastructure such as street lights and safe public transport in campus areas are provided. University administrations are also supposed to ensure that the powers of hostel authorities are regulated and “brought within the domain of accountability”; gender sensitive medical facilities, counselling services and security staff are provided; and Women’s Development Cells for gender sensitisation revived and adequately funded.
None of this exists in Jamia, and it’s the same story across many other universities in the country. We do not feel you have any legitimacy to visit a women’s hostel, since your ministry and UGC have completely failed to ensure implementation of these regulations by universities. Universities and colleges are shamelessly flouting these regulations, and we see you as complicit in this. You do not have the right to visit any women’s hostel in the country as long as they remain spaces where women are imprisoned, humiliated and controlled. Your government’s role in repressing student voices of dissent and resistance and your ministry’s role in the death of Rohith Vemula fills us with rage and anger. No, Mr. Javadekar, you are not welcome in our hostel. And yet we must compulsorily sit and fake smiles and claps as you arrive tomorrow, because otherwise, we risk a ‘show cause’ notice and expulsion from the hostel.
This letter is our voice of dissent and resistance to you, and to this university administration.
Women hostellers of Jamia Millia Islamia University