Gathering in front of Hindu College to protest against the high hostel fees for girls, Delhi University students made several demands. The demands included restarting room allocation in the girls’ hostel and a uniform fee structure for both genders. They further asked for revocation of the show-cause notices sent to the 15 students who had previously raised their voice against this distinction in fees, questioning the motive behind keeping girls’ hostel charges at ₹1,22,500 per annum for the academic year of 2016-2017, while for boys, it was ₹57,900. The memorandum, signed by more than 300 students, failed to elicit a response from the officiating Principal, Dr Anju Srivastava.
At the protest site, the aggrieved students spoke of how “an un-dated notice got uploaded to the college website, which called for applications from women students latest by July 22, 2017 (within a period of two days), along with an attached registration form,” as opposed to the systematic procedure followed by the boys’ hostel, where public announcements, registration forms, and room allocation take place without complications. While the net fees payable was revised to ₹91,000/- for the incoming batch of women students this year, the boys’ hostel continued to charge a significantly lower sum. The refusal by authorities to state reasons for this revision, as well as to provide a breakdown of fee structure (as is done for the boys’ hostel) displayed a complete disregard for accountability towards students who come from diverse social and economic backgrounds.
The college’s Joint Action Committee for Women’s Hostels, in their official statement, mentioned other methods adopted by the administration to curb students’ movement –“locking down several areas within college premises, ban on the presence of non-hostel students of the college on campus beyond class hours, heavy deployment of police personnel in its premises during class hours” were some instances which could threaten a free academic environment. Issuing show-cause notices to 15 students, accompanied by direct contact with family members of several others and accusing one female student of working for a terrorist organisation, has only worsened the existing scenario.
The college authorities’ refusal to be held accountable for (avoidable) controversies, while continuing to harass out-station students through unreasonable fee hike, displays deep-rooted apathy for the grieving side. Instead of ensuring a healthy environment that breeds intellectual growth, the college is adopting regressive steps to strengthen the existing hierarchy, with no space for redressal of problems faced by students. Emphasising on the “infantile treatment” meted out to the latter, Kawalpreet Kaur, president of All India Student Association (AISA), points out that “there is nothing wrong in demanding transparency from the administration. Delhi University is a public university, and accommodation is a major concern – how will a student from a middle-class background, or belonging to a marginalised community, afford such high rates of hostel fees?”
In a similar argument, Madhurima Kundu, state Vice President for AISA, and a graduate from Hindu college mentions how the fee structure points to gender taxation, given the comparatively lower rates that the boys’ hostel levies. She elaborates by saying, “It is not fair to charge girls almost the double amount in the name of amenities. The University Grants Commission (UGC) had sent funds a long time ago, about ten years before, and when they were going to lapse, college authorities organised the hostel inauguration hastily. But for nearly a year and a half, construction did not start. It still does not have the clearance from National Green Tribunal (NGT). Why should the cost of living inside a Government institution be the same as privately-owned PG accommodations?”
Debashree Unni, president of Ramjas’ Literary Society, believes the hostel rates to be arbitrary and unnecessary. Commenting on “the culture of violence that has gripped the University space” she appeals to students and different authorities to stand together, “especially when the issue is as critical as equal opportunities for men and women. Coming from a college where there is a uniform fee structure for both hostels, if not timing, I feel it is a basic request to have affordable rates.”
For obvious reasons, therefore, the scenario existing in hostels across the University encourages patriarchal notions of limiting the resources available to women, to stump their growth. This gets closely linked to a general inclination towards moral policing, by setting dress codes for girls while they are inside the hostel. By constantly forcing them to avoid wearing “revealing clothes”, and “behave like decent girls”, the authorities put more importance on attire than to comfort and personal choice. If both hostels and PG accommodations begin to impose high fees and curfew timing on girls, it affects the exposure that they receive on campus – be it academic or personal. Moreover, the rule for “one night out, two late-nights” a month (which was outlined in the Hostel guidebook for Hindu college last year), does not apply to boys, but of course does so for girls, clearly restricting women students from exploring more opportunities.
To show support for protesting students at Hindu College, several students from various colleges have released statements of solidarity. Students of Lady Sri Ram College spoke of how (a revised structure of) “hostel fee of ₹90,000 (as opposed to ₹60,000 for boys) propagates the idea of gendered subjugation. Not only must we link this to the recent trend of privatising the public education system, but also the systematic exclusion this entails. It is far harder for women to enter into higher education in the first place – discriminatory hostel fees make it even more difficult for them to avail of this right.” Students from Ramjas College called for “a unanimous refusal to accept such Brahmanical and patriarchal diktats.” The Women’s Development Cell of Miranda College emphasised on “standing for equality and justice and the right to a safe space not threatened by the perpetration of acts of violence and intolerance.”
At a time when there is steady repression of voices of dissent on matters that question the integrity displayed by authorities, there is a need for students from not just Delhi University, but across the whole nation, to come together, and ensure that the practice of constant questioning and critiquing does not fizzle away. As seen in case of the protest organised outside Hindu college, where initially students from within the college were barred from joining the group that had gathered outside. With the college gates locked, it ultimately led to a combined walk till the gates of Vice Chancellor’s Office, where the memorandum prepared by the concerned students was read out, and after that, passed on to higher authorities for investigation. Corruption in the field of education only thwarts the general growth of a country. Nothing good ever comes out of silencing the student community – we form a major portion of the country’s critical thinkers, who, regardless of what certain authorities believe, have the power to improve the existing situation, and deserve the facilities that would enable it to happen – without any interference.