By Ishita Mishra:
“It was like any other Sunday in the PG. I came out of the bathroom after taking a bath and was shocked to see an unknown man standing right outside my bathroom. Dressed only in my bathrobe, I immediately screamed at him and asked him how and why he was in my room. He said he was an electrician and had come to fix the tube light in some room and had landed in the wrong room by mistake. He apologised and left.” This was narrated by a friend of mine who lives in a PG accommodation in National Park. She further explained how insecure and unsafe she felt at times in her own PG. The incident might be a genuine mistake, but points towards a much larger issue. Are PGs really safe? Do students feel at home in their PGs? To find out the answers to these questions, I interviewed students from Delhi University’s South Campus.
I spoke to some students from Lady Shri Ram College who had stayed in PGs in National Park and Amar Colony. These are areas near the college. Most of them told me that the PG owners do not bother about who enters the PG and the doors remain open to all kind of threats. “The recent case of a stranger masturbating inside a girl’s room has left me terrified. We are living in a constant state of fear. It is displeasing and uncomfortable,” said Swati Sradhanjali, a student of LSR.
According to Nikhil Gupta, a student of Sri Venkateswara College who stays in a PG in Satya Niketan, “Anyone can enter the PG, be it day or night. There are a lot of risks as no one would come for help even if we ever called out for help.”
Students of Maitreyi College, Delhi College of Arts and Commerce and Jesus and Mary College mostly prefer to live in PGs of Chanakya Puri and RK Puram. A majority of the people from these areas were satisfied with the safety measures taken by their PG owners.
Many living in Gautam Nagar and Kailash Colony also said that they felt safe and comfortable in their PGs. I asked them questions on what made them feel safe. To this, Surabhi Prasoon, a resident of a PG in Gautam Nagar replied, “My PG has two caretakers who make sure that only the residents of the PG enter the building. Friends who come to my PG are allowed into my room only after the caretakers confirm over the intercom that they are my acquaintances and have my permission.” Mishthi Gupta, a friend staying in a PG in Kailash Colony told me, “My PG has a biometric system and therefore, I feel very safe inside the PG. I know that the doors will not open unless a known fingerprint is recognised by the machine.”
The rent of most PGs in South Campus is more than that of the ones in North Campus. While most PGs near GTB Nagar, North Campus, charge around Rs. 4,500-6,000 per month, some PGs in Greater Kailash even have a rent of Rs. 18,000 per month. I also came to know that many PG owners ask for extra money unnecessarily and when tenants do not pay heed to their demands, the owners harass them by one way or the other. “My PG owner is always rude to me and often asks for more money than what is due. When I deny paying, he calls up my parents at odd hours of the day and makes false complaints about me,” said a student of Kamala Nehru living in Gautam Nagar. A friend’s PG owner once asked for money just because her friends spent the day in the PG once. Another student told me that her PG owner once randomly increased the rate of the parking space provided to students for their scooties. Some ask students to pay the rent on a certain date of the month and charge a high ‘late fine’ per day till the time the student doesn’t make the payment.
Most PGs and hostels have curfew timings. From a few people living in PGs in Hauz Khas and Malviya Nagar, I came to know that there are no curfews for men in their localities but doors shut at 10 pm for women. Similar situations exist in most PGs in Satya Niketan and R K Puram. LSR’s hostel, one of the only hostels in South Campus, has a curfew time of 7.30 pm. Students are allowed to take permission to stay out till late in the night but one can take only a limited number of permissions for such outings. “The hostel does not allow students to leave before 7 am, so I have to face a lot of problems if I have to catch a train at 6 am,” said Mehak, a student of LSR.
When asked about the food provided in their PGs, most said that while the menu is small and repetitive, the food is almost always hygienic and edible. However, according to some students living in PGs near DCAC and Maitreyi, the food tastes awfully bad and is sometimes served in unclean utensils as well. “With no proper food, hygiene and security, it feels useless to pay around 9k per month. The worst is, we students can do nothing about it as all PGs in the area are more or less of the same type,” said Sakshi, a student of DCAC. When the so-called ‘home cooked food’ provided by the PGs is not good enough, students are forced to eat junk food almost on a daily basis, which affects both their health and limited budget adversely.
Lack of hostels in South Campus is why students have to resort to living in PGs that charge unreasonably high rent and impose a lot of restrictions. Many students are denied proper food and there are concerns related to hygiene and security. These are many times ignored by owners of PGs. Not only are students receiving facilities of much lower value than what they are paying for, but at times they also have to bear the nonsensical aggression and demands of the PG owners and deal with several unfair restrictions and curfews. While a movement like Pinjra Tod is a great start to bringing these issues to notice, we still have a long way to go in finding and implementing the solutions to the problems.