When I ask my friends from Delhi University what is the first landmark that comes to their mind when they think of their university, the answer I get more often than not is the Vishwa Vidyalaya metro station. Opened in 2004 for the general public, Vishwa Vidyalaya station is a part of Delhi Metro’s Yellow line. From this station, Guru Teg Bahadur Road and Chhatra Marg take you to major constituent colleges and faculties of the North Campus. However, if you do not wish to attend any classes or stop for tea at the D-School canteen and instead keep on walking by the Chhatra Marg, you will end up in Kamala Nagar in less than a mile.
Kamala Nagar is not a part of North Campus, and yet one might argue it represents North Campus more than anything else, even more than Vishwa Vidyalaya metro station. Together with Munirka of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Nagar of Jamia Millia Islamia, Kamala Nagar belongs to what I call the grey space of university campuses. Unlike, say Arts Faculty, university rules and regulations do not apply in Kamala Nagar even when more students live here than in all the hostels of North Campus put together.
Delhi University and Jamia Millia Islamia are one of those central universities in India which have scarce and limited on-campus accommodation facilities. Kamala Nagar and Jamia Nagar have emerged as the off-campus residential localities for students in such a scenario. Situated just on the lines that demarcate and separate these university campuses from other areas, these localities offer a unique taste of student culture, quite distinct from what is visible within the campus itself. Filled with paying guest accommodations and flats-on-rent, these localities are a mix of arbitrary rules and regulations, unreasonable charges, and at times even anarchy, for good as well as bad.
Not having sufficient on-campus hostel facilities has been a major issue with students wishing to apply for these universities. However, conversely, those who have joined these universities anyhow, have tried to own up these nearby localities. It is because of this reason that Vishwa Vidyalaya isn’t just another metro station on the Yellow line for the students of North Campus but an artery that connects them to their other body parts. For a place like Jawaharlal Nehru University, the campus is the world. A place like Delhi University, on the other end, has found a way to permeate into the city.
However, there is more to the story than meets the eye.
In my previous article titled “What Stops the State Police from Entering a University Campus”, I argued that it is the anticipation of retaliation from the students that stop the state police from entering a university campus. In doing so, I showed that there is something called a ‘University Campus’ which has its own rules and regulations, its own proctorial police, and therefore, a particular jurisdiction in which it can exercise its powers.
The grey spaces of university campuses, like Kamala Nagar and Jamia Nagar that I have been talking about, do not fall under this jurisdiction. Even though the idea of retaliation from students is very much present in these localities as well, it is more nuanced than being out there to the point that it is almost absent. In the previous article I have mentioned above, I wrote about the students of Jamia Millia Islamia protesting against the presence of two armed and suspected state police officials on campus. Immediately, it became an issue of jurisdiction and what the students perceived as harassment. Off-campus, in places like Jamia Nagar, there have been numerous reports of harassment faced by female students living and travelling in these localities. To tackle this, staff and faculty members forwarded a letter to the Jamia Nagar police station SHO asking the office to provide adequate security to the students. The state police officials who were seen as a threat to the security of students inside the university campus gates became the guardians of safety just outside those gates.
Inside the boundary, rules and regulations are framed by the university administration. Moreover, the university administration is compelled to frame the rules and regulations according to the wishes of the students to a large extent. Students’ unions and other student bodies play a vital role in pressurizing the administration to come up with student-friendly regulations. This goes for the hostel fees and other accommodation related charges as well. However, outside the university campus, rates are decided by the market forces, as in almost any other space. If landlords feel they can get more rent from a working person than from a student, they will very well hand over the accommodation to the former. Since this economics is in the hands of the landlords, they get to decide the rules of tenancy as well. The ‘utopia of the university campus’ and the ‘dystopia of the outside world’ stems right from here.
Consider the case of the Pinjra Tod movement. It has led successful protests against the curfew timings for women in hostels on different campuses over the past few years. However, even a movement as strong as Pinjra Tod has been unsure of fighting against the discriminatory regulations that exist in PGs and flats, even though, again, more students live here than on campuses. Although attempts have been made once in a while to rally against these rules and pressurize the PG and flat owners for more than just regulations, they have fizzled out without any progress. To know what one wants and how to go about it in black and white situations is simpler, but to fight against discriminatory practices in grey spaces is actually complex. There have been reports of sexual assaults and abuse in these localities of the nature that would have caused uproar had they happened on campuses. The very fact that they took place in the extensions of campuses has only resulted in protests in the form of social media posts. This is not because people do not take this seriously. It is because people are unsure of how things work in these spaces.
As such, for university campuses to develop as safe and accessible spaces, as is the motive of almost all the student movements of India at present, a better understanding of these grey spaces that exist on the margins of the university campuses is a must.
(This article is the second of a series titled ‘What is a University Campus?’ by the author. You can read the first article here. Please follow this space for more.)