During the recent hostel admission interviews in Jamia Millia Islamia, students complained of being harassed and targeted for being dissenting voices of the anti-curfew protests last year. They also complained of arbitrary hostel rules, an absurd criteria of needing two local guardians amongst other grievances. The students also claim to have secretly recorded the interviews in which they were harassed by the interview committee. In this connection, I interviewed Azra Khurshid, the women’s hostel provost of Jamia Millia Islamia.
Muntaha Amin: On what basis is hostel accommodation allotted to students and what criteria is preferred since there are limited seats?
Azra Khurshid: Yes, seats are very limited. Right now I have received about 600 applications and I have only 160 seats to allott. The major criterias are merit, distance and then the economically weaker section or BPL. We consider these things.
MA: Why is there an interview for the hostel allotment? What purpose does it serve?
AK: There are many other things which they are not able to communicate through papers. One very important thing is that we ask them to provide two local guardians. Earlier when there were no interviews, students would actually put signatures from anybody, just paste photos of anybody to show that they are their local guardians. They are here for 2-4 years. Few of them, like BDS students, are for 6-7 years. In between, when they fall sick, nobody comes to take care of them and we have faced lot of problems due to fake local guardians.
Actually, in many cases, there were no local guardians and they just pasted dummy photos and dummy signatures. Therefore, we need local guardians to be present in person in the interviews to sign in front of the administration.
MA: My concern is that students have been complaining of not having any known person in Delhi, no relatives, so how are they supposed to present local guardians before you?
AK: We don’t want relatives. We want guardians. We have given them all the liberty of making anyone their local guardians, to bring their friends’ parents. Students from Manipur, Kashmir, and other far off places, bring their class fellows’ parents. We just want assurance. The first sentence which we utter to guardians is: we will not bother you ever, only and only if they fall sick because we don’t have any arrangement and we don’t have a hospital.
MA: But there is a health centre, the M.A. Ansari Health Centre?
AK: Yes, only a health centre. It is not a hospital. They only give medicine for some time. Sometimes students fall sick due to malaria, due to dengue. There is no medical college at Jamia. If we had a medical college, we would not have had that problem, then we would’ve sent them to the hospital and informed their parents accordingly.
MA: Some students make strangers their local guardians because they are not able to fill forms otherwise and when they fall sick, their local guardians, strangers, are not able to report. Students also complain about the criteria which mentions that local guardians have to be married. Do you feel that is justified?
AK: No, no. You can twist the matter by language. They are not at all forced.
Once, a student met an accident and she expired; in these circumstances, who will you contact? You would like to contact a local guardian but keep in mind, Delhi is a different type of a city. So how can we house students without local guardians? And all students are not mature, some of them are 13 years old, some are 15. Even students who are only 17, 18 years old are not mature. Yes, of course, the PhD students, the Masters students, they are quite mature.
MA: Are these students exempted from need to have local guardians?
AK: No, no. They need guardians. We have made it compulsory for everyone.
MA: It is an open secret that students, in this case, randomly pick strangers and make them their local guardians owing to this irrational pressure. If it was really a question of security, wouldn’t strangers being responsible for students be a concern to the hostel administration?
Also, wouldn’t you say that those who already have places to stay in Delhi (I mean guardians) wouldn’t necessarily need the hostel as badly as the ones who don’t?
AK: I don’t know what answer I can give you. But no student came with the concern on the lines of ‘I do not have a guardian therefore I cannot apply.’ I am very surprised why students talk like this. Most of the times, they go to their teachers and faculty members become their local guardians and they actually act and behave as local guardians, yeh nahi ki wo ban gai aur uske baad bekhabar hogai (not as if they just signed on a sheet and then forget their duties). The faculty who became guardians used to come in times of crisis.
Since the past two years, these students have been in the habit of just laying allegations on the administration and authorities, just saying negative things about the university. They don’t have any responsibility, they don’t have any duties towards the institution. They have psychological problems.
MA: Why do you think these students are posing these allegations?
AK: I don’t know why. They have become smarter. They have become more adult, they have become what I can say is that. . . They are getting more facilities.
MA: Why do students have to fill readmission forms every time?
AK: Just because of local guardians. Sometimes local guardians refuse to continue after a year or so. In such cases, via readmission forms, we have to ensure students come up with new local guardians.
MA: What if students fail to convince random strangers to be their guardians, will you chuck them out of the hostel?
AK: Nahi, aisa kabhi nahi hua hai, hum log faculty ko bana dete hai, faculty ban jatey hai aasani se (No, this has never happened. We have approached the faculty members to step in in such times, and they have happily done so), and faculty are very nice. And they were never reluctant, only too happy.
MA: Why has the dinner end time been reduced and also the time till which outside food can be ordered by the students? Why this slow and shady curtailment of rights?
AK: The workers, their duty is only up to 10 p.m. The shift is from 2:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. When their shift would end at 10:30 p.m., they’d come crying to us, saying “we’re poor people and you will not listen to us, the authorities will not listen to us; we cannot protest, so we are crying in front of you.” They have complained of having to leave late at night and getting scared on roads with the risk of anything happening to them. So, should we consider on humanitarian grounds their issues or should we, for an extra half an hour enjoyment on the student’s part, risk the safety of our workers?
And, the dinner time anyway is not after 10. It is not a healthy dinner time. As a psychologist, let me tell you that if you do not take proper sleep, you will not be fresh for the morning’s study plan so you should finish your dinner by 10.