How it is to stay on rent? This question prompted me for this small write-up, so that I can give vent to the feelings which are there in my mind always disturbing and haunting me.
I completed my Post-Graduation from the Open University and somehow managed to secure admission in one of the highest educational institutions of the valley-University of Kashmir. After a lot of struggle and hard work, I finally was enrolled for the research programme. It took some months to get acquainted with the environment in which I was supposed to spent the most precious and productive years of life. The environment of the city being highly different from the village life always requires a stiffness to get fairly adjusted.
As a rural resident, the distance from educational institution to the home compels students to hire a room, so that they can manage things in a proper way. The same thing happened with me and after a few months of my admission, my parents insisted me to hire a room so that I may not have to bear the brunt of traffic jams and other transportation problems. So, I yielded to their advice and went for searching a room for me. For the days together, searched for the room but due to some or other reasons was unable to find a suitable room. Wherever I visited I found people charging for the rooms at their well. I didn’t find any institutional mechanism in place to regulate these private hostels. I met with the students who were staying in these hostels and enquired about the functioning of these hostels. Everyone told me that there is no check on these hostels; it is up to the owners to fix rent and other charges. Besides, these owners have formulated their own norms and rules which have to be followed rigorously. And in case, we don’t adhere to the rules or raise our voice against the injustices being done with us in the form of excessive charges, the next we are asked to vacate the rooms.
After visiting many hostels, I asked these owners whether these hostels are recognized or not. The answer was humiliating. Who are you to ask us these questions? It is our property no one has the right to interfere in our business. I after listening to the answers left without uttering a word.
It was after a couple of weeks that I hired a room in the vicinity of the university. I sighed relief. The observations of the past days pushed me to ask the same questions to the owner of the hostel where I hired a room. The owner was a female, and I asked her how they charge for these rooms and she in a loud and aggressive voice replied that we have already fixed the charges and after every year enhance the rent of the rooms and other associated charges. From the tone, I got the answers of other questions as well. During the stay in the hostel, I observed the injustices being committed by these owners and how the innocent students had to face the wrath and humiliation of these owners.
The pitiable part was that if girls from other hostel or other room visited this hostel to collect notes or held group discussions in the day time from the classmates, the girl was required to pay money. Every girl wished a change in these rules. One girl from south Kashmir even cancelled her accommodation in the hostel due to this rule. Whenever, any girl from the hostel attempted to raise her voice against these unjust and cruel rules. Her voice was suppressed by psychological and verbal humiliations. The girls felt helpless and only thing they can do to get out of this psychological harassment was that, they wept for the days together.
I observed these things minutely and did not want to remain silent and act as mute spectator. So, I decided to fight collectively against these injustices. I assembled all girls and asked them that we need to collectively fight for our rights. They agreed and we decided to convince the owner about the changes to be made in the rules as well as charges. After a long discussion, I called the owner in the room where we all were present. As I tried to keep our demands, the owner without listening a word started shouting at us. She told us to vacate the hostel next day otherwise she will throw our belongings out. We again and again requested her for listening to us. But she was not ready to hear a single word. It was not less than a nightmare for us.
Next day, I visited the proctor’s office and enquired if there is any regulation of private hostels by the university. One of the employees present there denied the existence of any such mechanism. The students are left at the mercy of God. There is no seriousness on part of any university or college or any other institution in Kashmir for the regulation and monitoring of these unregistered hostels. The higher authorities should take a serious note of these unregistered hostels functioning anywhere and proper mechanism needs to put in place to ensure well-being of students of rural areas.
Shahida Akhtar is Research Scholar, University of Kashmir