Lady Shri Ram College is one of the most renowned colleges under the University of Delhi. Each year, hundreds of young girls who manage to clear the sky-high cutoffs, join this college from all over the country. Given that many of the students are from different parts of the country, LSR is one of the few colleges in the University of Delhi that has a hostel facility. This hostel houses 300 girls from across all years, or so it did till now.
The college has finally decided to rightly implement OBC reservations in its hostel admissions. This is a welcome step but its execution is not well planned. As per a recent notice on the website of Lady Shri Ram College, the college has decided that it will no longer allow students in their second and third year to take admission in the hostel, to implement the reservations. The college administration wants to make the hostel an exclusive space for first-year students to “provide a secure environment to a larger number of students from various parts of India in their first year.” As a former resident of the hostel at Lady Shri Ram College, I see it as anything but inclusive as the college claims the move to be.
Based on their merit and interview with their family and guardians, students, across various categories, are granted admission to the Residence Hall. At the beginning of the new academic year, the hostel also takes fresh admissions from second and third year students who are eligible to join the hostel. Given that the seats are limited, admission into the hostel is not easy but for those that do get admitted, feel secure as they have access to shelter for the entire duration of their time in college.
It is not clear why the college thinks that students in their second and third years don’t need a secure shelter. With the change in rules, well-adjusted students would be asked to uproot themselves and look for accommodation after one year. This does not help promote any feeling of ‘security’ as the college might like to believe. A student, across any category, that was deserving, and in need of accommodation would still be in need, in her second and third year. Their material and social circumstances would still be the same. and the college authorities seem to be missing that point. If ‘inclusivity’ is going to last only one year, is that inclusivity at all?
Apart from this, living in the hostel fosters the feeling of living in a community and helps build support systems away from home. The new rules break this support system and could make the adjustment a bigger challenge for the students.
The Residence Hall or the hostel is an economical option when it comes to accommodation, in comparison to the expensive paying guest accommodations in the vicinity of the college in areas like National Park, Greater Kailash 1, East of Kailash and Lajpat Nagar. Given the college’s location, staying in a paying guest accommodation can range from anything between ₹10,000 to ₹25,000 per month based on the facilities that are provided. In most cases, these are small rooms housing 2 or 3 girls in one room, with poorly made food, extra charges for laundry, milk, inflated per unit rates for using the AC (as applicable) and more that become applicable every now and then as per the whims of the landlord. Those who won’t be able to afford the cost would move further away from the campus in relatively cheaper areas, though not necessarily safe.
A major reason why people prefer the hostel is its cost effectiveness but with this move, the college is essentially making it clear that this is a place for privileged young women only. If it were not saying so, it would take into consideration that students from marginalized and weaker economic sections of the society would be at a great disadvantage when they would be forced to look for alternative accommodations after one year. Giving students accommodation for only a year means effectively asking a lot of students to not join in the first place because the process of relocating after a year is neither easy nor economical.
It is strange that a college that sees feminism (or used to, at least) as a guiding principle is not thinking of the impact a decision like this can have on prospective students, into consideration. Many parents prefer to get their children admitted to a college that has a hostel facility because of its safety and security. For many women students, the presence of a hostel is a primary reason that their parents feel comfortable in letting them study in a different city with an increasing crime rate against women. Given the new rules, where the hostel facility is limited to only one year, it might no longer be an option for many students to study at LSR.
To enable better access to education for women, it is important to create better and accessible infrastructure including hostels for women. A hostel facility is a necessary provision in a college and not a means of charity by the college. For quite some time now, the administration at Lady Shri Ram College has been struggling with the lack of space to accommodate more students in the hostel. This problem is not new and if revoking access of a significant number of students to the hostel facility is the college’s way to tackle the problem, then it is yet another poor and misguided solution in the making.
Implementing reservations is important to be inclusive as an educational institution but the way it is being implemented raises many questions. The Residence Hall brings together 300 young women from various backgrounds to come together in one space, enabling them to collectively strive for their rights. Perhaps one of the most dangerous repercussions of removing second and third-year students from the hostel would be stifling dissent in the college. Over the past couple of years, the hostel residents at Lady Shri Ram College have joined the fight against discriminatory hostel rules in girls’ colleges. In November 2018, the college saw protests against the administration for sexist hostel rules. The new rules cannot be looked at separately from the student movement against the administration.
In their first year of college, students are often busy trying to find their own space and adjusting to the pace of things in their new life. By the time they reach the second or third year, they begin to question the institution for its inequalities or discriminatory practices. Thus, the absence of senior students in the Residence Hall would depoliticize the space and make it easier for the administration to create oppressive rules that students will follow. Apart from this, the hostel union is run by students from second and third years. Now that they would no longer be a part of the hostel, would the hostel even have a union? That is a question that still remains unanswered.
On the surface, the notice on the college’s website seems well-intentioned but a closer look proves that it is anything but that. As a former resident of the Residence Hall for all three years of my college life, I have experienced the impact it can have on one’s personal growth, and also help in building a support system away from home. With time, it also helped me find my voice to dissent against what was not right or fair.
Implementing reservations is a constitutional requirement and the college must prioritize the provision of hostel facility to students from reserved categories to promote equity in the campus. The college can’t blame its poor implementation and short-sightedness on the policy of reservations. If the Residence Hall, becomes a halfway home for students to adjust to the city and then find alternative shelter, it would defeat the whole point of a facility like that. It would also considerably quash dissent in the campus, perhaps to the relief of the administration.