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‘Are We Students Or Inmates In A Prison?’: Open Letter To Jamia VC From Women Students

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To,
The Vice Chancellor
Jamia Milia Islamia
New Delhi

Respected Sir,

We wish to bring to your attention the new prospectus of the Girls’ Hostel, which contains multiple arbitrary and discriminatory rules which seek to restrict the mobility and freedom of women students of Jamia Millia Islamia residing in the University’s hostel. These regressive rules were brought to our notice in the revised Prospectus regardless of the demands accepted by the administration as were raised in the protest held on March 18 earlier this year. One of the primary demands raised in the said protest was the extension of the curfew timing to 10:30 pm as compared to the earlier 8:00 pm. However, as per the prospectus for the 2018-19 academic session, the curfew timing has once again been rolled back to 09:00 pm.

Furthermore, the new and updated prospectus also demands us to submit our hostel renewal forms latest by July 14, 2018. The form includes an undertaking, which carries the clause that we, as residents of the University’s Hostel, shall not be participating in any form of physical or signatory protests or resistance against the hostel or University administration, and on doing so, our accommodation shall be liable to be cancelled. This rule shall allow the administration to stomp upon us on any arbitrary form of rules and regulations and we shall be hapless to do anything but follow accordingly, lest we run the risk of ending up homeless on the streets of Delhi. We vehemently deny to sign such a form which takes away from us, in any manner, our democratic and fundamental right to raise our voices in any manner of expression as allowed by the law of the land, and to protest against any undemocratic, arbitrary and regressive provisions on any platform which take away from us any of the rights as guaranteed by the Constitution of our country.

Sir, we would like to emphasise that women students have been raising their voice against these discriminatory rules for the past three years constantly. Can our voices, views and rights be so easily dismissed? As adult citizens of this country, do we then, not get the privilege to exercise our fundamental rights? A university is meant to be an inclusive space harbouring an environment that fosters growth. However, the differential access we have to the University and the city itself restricts us from being able to fully exercise our autonomy and experience the city space unlike our male brethren. The rules in the hostel often force us to question whether we are students or inmates in a prison, constantly being policed and questioned about our movements. For instance, the hostel rules mandate that for women students there be a roll call every day to check that every resident is present. No such process exists for the men. The fact that we have to take ‘permission’ from our local guardians if we wish to go out of the hostel robs us of any sense of agency and dignity. It is reminiscent of the era where women were relegated to the realm of the household and considered nothing more important than a decorated mantelpiece.

We would also like to express that this action on the part of the administration amounts to unnecessary and unethical rollback after giving us their word to heed to our demands which are legitimate in all forms. The rules were drastically altered, with an unprecedented amount of changes being brought in, without any information given to or consultation with the residents, which makes the rules an undemocratic action. Another point of contention that we would like to communicate to you is that whether during our previous protest or in any event following that, we were never allowed to have any form of dialogue or communication with you. This simply implies that the students of Jamia Millia Islamia do not have available to them the right to freely and trustfully approach their own Vice Chancellor.

We would also like to inform you about the non-cooperative and inactive attitude of the members of the administration towards the residents. It is pertinent to be brought to your notice that the Memorandum, presented to the authorities in March 2018, which is also duly signed by them, carried the demands of installation of more street lights around the hostel, an area which is practically mostly drowning in darkness post sunset, and also the demand for paying back the rebates to the residents, but none of those demands have been met in the slightest manner whatsoever. It seems rather ironic that an administration that repeatedly attempts to justify all its actions citing the reason of our safety as well being is actually not concerned about that even so much as to ensure proper lighting in the area around us.

Furthermore, the Provost of the Old Girls’ Hostel has been quoted as saying to the media that the earlier mentioned protest was an attempt of the residents to strong arm the administration into acceptance, and that the go ahead for the demanded curfew timings was given only on a trial basis because the protest happened at midnight. We would like to unequivocally submit that all these statements are false, frivolous and attempted at character assassination of the protesting residents to scare off any future protests. The truth, actually, is that the protest happened from 08:00 pm to 10:00 pm and was in all forms democratic, peaceful and justified with no action from any protester going out of line unnecessarily. The demands were accepted unequivocally by the authorities and there was no mention of any “trial period” whatsoever and bringing that argument now to merely justify the new regressive rules is both undemocratic and unethical. Also, the demands of installation of street lights and rebates not being met actually show that they are not serious about the demands whatsoever and the “trial period” argument is merely a weak justification put up by them.

Despite the long continuing struggle for a student union, there is an absence of any body or platform where students can discuss issues pertaining to their life in the University. Women students had protested in 2015 against the removal of late nights, and have been continuously been struggling to fight these unjust rules to no avail. Yet again, our demands raised at the protest in March have been dismissed. The hopes, energy and fervour with which we protested, have been cast away and put aside by your administration, sir. In this patriarchal society, where the woman is always designated unimportant and secondary, this University is lending its hand to our continued oppression. Our cages are getting smaller and smaller and we are helpless to do anything but resist.

Despite the fear of further repression, our vision of Jamia as a space where people of all genders can express themselves freely, can live and love freely and live with dignity still burns on.

We vehemently demand that the new and updated prospectus be rolled back and scrapped away with immediate effect and a newer Prospectus be introduced, which is in conformity with our demands as listed and enumerated in the earlier Memorandum and that no decision regarding any changes in the hostel rules shall be taken without constructive discussion with and after taking the consent of the residents of both the Old and New Hostels. We also demand the resignation or removal of the Provosts of both the new and old Girls’ hostels and that they be replaced with people who are more cooperative and proactive.

Yours Sincerely,
Women Hostellers of Jamia Milia Islamia

PS: A hard copy of this letter was also sent by registered post, which has been received by the VC’s office on July 4.

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