By Towfeeq Wani:
A few weeks ago, more than 50 students of New Hall of Residence (Women) at Jamia Millia Islamia had been served show-cause notices by the administration. Many students had alleged that they were being targeted for opposing a notice that ‘forced’ them to be present at the inaugural ceremony of a new hostel. Later on, the show-cause notices were withdrawn, and the provost of the hostel resigned.
I had a conversation with the former provost of Begum Hazrat Mahal Hostel, Baran Farooqui, to understand the matter and other interrelated issues that were prevalent in the Hall of Residence (Women). Women have different curfew timings from that of men in hostels, they have a ‘50-day-leave-rule’, where women residents are not allowed to take more than 50 days of leave from the hostel in a year, and there are allegations of being forced to participate in different hostel activities.
Towfeeq Wani (TW): You were serving as the provost of Begum Hazrat Mahal Hostel when more than 50 students had been served show-cause notices. Let us come back to the reason a little later. Why were the numbers so huge this time?
Baran Farooqui (BR): Let me clarify at the outset that there is a renewal exercise every year in which the students are supposed to fill a form after which their general behaviour in the hostel is assessed. It is a necessary exercise, which I have not instituted; but is there in the ordinances. This exercise was being carried over a period of almost two months. The purpose was to tell the students, “Look, you have to be more serious about your seat.” So many other girls have applied for the same, given the scarcity of hostels in Jamia. So, if you are in the hostel, we would like you to add something to its environment.
We got caught up with many events including the hostel inauguration and naming ceremony and the hostel renewal process. Due to this, we could not give notices to the students over two months. They kept accumulating. This pending list of names of girls became very large in number. We also made sure that we gave them hostel renewal slips first and then served the notices, so they didn’t feel that their seats were being threatened. It was just to make them conscious that they lacked in some areas. It was just routine work. If we had done this in groups of two, three, and four in two months, it would have seemed normal, and nobody would have noticed it.
TW: Many hostellers have said that it was retributive action against them for opposing the notice that made it compulsory for every student to be present at the inauguration ceremony, which was changed later.
BF: I have a feeling that the students might not have said this and that it is just a twisting of the facts by the media because almost all the students attended the event and those who stayed back in the hostel did so without permission. There was a proper understanding between us.The event was a success because of the students. Why would there be any resentment in them?
TW: Students have said that the reasons cited in these notices were “silly and absurd,” like the ‘50-days leave’ rule and ‘necessary participation in hostel activities’.
BF: We sent them show-cause notices, but we didn’t intend to do any harm. These were given to girls who were very casual during the renewal interviews. They came in ‘very very casual’ clothes without even combing their hair. I was not present, but the wardens who were taking the interview reported that the girls did not look formal enough for an interview. Secondly, some of the girls had made some terrible mistakes. One of the girls had a stomach ache, and she sneaked out of the hostel after the evening attendance. We later called her parents and guardians to sort out the matter and verified things after which she was allowed to come back to the hostel, as her reasons were genuine. Similarly, some others had forged the signatures of their local guardians on leave applications. Others had choked the washing machines and so on. These girls were warned for discipline, and they are not many.
Regarding the ‘50 days leave’ rule, it is only 30 days in reality. I pushed it to 50 because many did not meet the 30 days rule. We have to make sure that students are not living outside while taking a seat in the hostel because there are so many others waiting in the line for the hostels who might otherwise have nowhere else to stay. Many of them are PhD students who are married. Again, we were not expelling anyone; we were only warning them.
TW: Why is it that the 50-days leave rule is applied only to the women’s hostels?
BF: As far as the boys’ hostels are concerned, I have no idea what they have and what they don’t have. I have no clue about it. Regarding the girls, I can say that our social system is still too rigid and strict. The parents who send their wards to hostels do so because they feel they will be safer in hostels. I do not drive alone after nine in the night. I say we will have to change the environment first.
I am not saying that the girls will do anything wrong if they roam around at night, but the paramount concern is that of their safety. I have not made these rules. They have been there since times immemorial, and I don’t know till when they will last. I am not a party to it.
TW: Shouldn’t it be the choice of the students whether they want to participate in any event or not?
BF: They have not been given show-cause notices specifically for non-participation. That is one of the points mentioned in there. Students who have taken long leaves have been asked this. We have never forced them to take part in any specific event. If you don’t like singing or dancing, then take part in a debate, essay writing competitions, or poster making instead. The idea behind these events was to ‘own’ the hostel. Until the time you feel you are in a hostel, you wouldn’t want to participate in anything. Through these events, I wanted to inculcate a sense of belonging among the residents. Even if nothing, plant a tree.
TW: Why did you resign after these notices were served?
BF: I resigned because I felt things were not getting conveyed the way I wanted to. Otherwise, I had been wanting to resign for a long time due to personal reasons. Since this hostel was new, we had to build everything from scratch. It took all my time and energy.
TW: Why were the notices withdrawn later, when there was nothing wrong with them?
BF: I don’t know. Perhaps because the administration felt that the students were troubled by it after the false news was being circulated in the media. The moment the Vice-Chancellor feels that the students are bothered about anything; he immediately tries to address it.
TW: DCW has again asked seven institutions of Delhi to provide reasons as to why they have separate hostel timings for men and women, which includes Jamia Millia. Why is the administration reluctant to do so?
BF: I think because the administration knows that it involves all the other institutions in Delhi and the country and not just Jamia Millia, and I am sure they are debating about it by going into the pros and cons.
TW: DCW has also provided the names of twelve institutions that don’t have separate timings.
BF: It might have to do with the fact that most of these institutions don’t have such a huge number of students in undergraduate courses as Jamia. Also, the campus of Jamia is not a single entity. It is broken into many small campuses with so many gates. It is unlike JNU where students can roam around in the night while still being inside the campus. Therefore, safety and security are the major concerns. I am no one to take a decision on this. There is a council which will deliberate on this matter.