When Ilato Achumi, a student of the Delhi School of Economics, applied to DU’s University Hostel for Women, she was told: “You people have your own hostel. Why do you want to block general seats?”
Fifth on merit list, Achumi was eligible for a room in the hostel, but since she is an ST student from Nagaland, she was directed to the DSE and SC/ST Students’ House for Women at Mukherjee Nagar. It was set up three years ago for girl students from DSE and reserved categories.
Next door is the Northeastern Students’ House for Women —and the story is repeated. Northeastern students, turned away from other hostels in North Campus, are sent here. They aren’t pleased; many are upset that caste and region are blatantly displayed in the university.
“Northeastern students feel discriminated in their own country,” says Achumi. “The only way to remove these mind blocks is to have mixed hostels that allow the intermingling of cultures.”
It is not just students who find the idea of segregated hostels offensive. Says Ratan Lal, who teaches at Hindu College: “There is an undeclared policy of discrimination.”
Incidentally, the DSE and SC/ST Students’ House for Women was renamed the Ambedkar-Ganguli Students’ House for Women just days ago, following protests that the earlier name was casteist. (The new name refers to B.R. Ambedkar and B.N. Ganguli, DSE’s founder.)
The official line is that caste- and region-based hostels fulfil the need for safe accommodation. But it is also a question of expediency. Shirin Rathore, dean of colleges, DU, says the DSE & SC/ST Students’ House was so named because they needed a girls’ hostel, but funding was a problem. (The Centre partly funded the hostel for reserved-category students.)
Fifty seats are for SC/ST students and 50 for DSE students. If there are vacancies in the reserved category, general-category students are allowed to stay— as guests.
But many say enough. Campuses must do away with caste distinctions. “This kind of segregation shows the mental make-up of authorities,” says Yogendra Yadav of the Centre for Study of Developing Societies.