Delhi University’s women students struggle for the democratisation of campus and self-determination

Concerned Residents of University Hostel of Women (UHW)

Since January of this year, students of Delhi University’s (DU) largest postgraduate women’s hostel, University Hostel of Women (UHW) have been involved in a militant struggle involving several fundamental democratic demands. One of their particular demands carries larger significance on the issue of democracy in the university campuses. This demand pertains to the right of the students to decide the contours of their student union constitution. As constituents of the union, the students have been contesting the fact that their hostel authorities have imposed a union constitution which the students’ have not ratified themselves. They have contested the union constitution on the grounds that it allows the authorities’ extensive control on the students’ union, thereby overriding the chances of a strong and independent students’ union coming into power.

In the process they have also questioned the enforcement of Lyngdoh recommendations in the hostel. After scrutinizing the Lyngdoh recommendations as well as Supreme Court judgments on the implementation of these recommendations, the students believe that they amount to a breach of the fundamental right to form an association [Article 19(1) a and c, Constitution of India]. According to the Constitution of India [Part III], the state can only infringe upon fundamental rights in certain exceptional and concrete conditions, none of which exist in the context of the hostel. Following from the specifications mentioned in the Constitution of India, the students have reached the conclusion that Supreme Court judgments are being unnecessarily taken out of context so as to curb democratic aspirations, independence of student unions as well as the power of resistance.

Apart from the issue of the union constitution, the women students have also been raising the demand to change age-old, conservative rules of the hostel. Currently, the residents cannot step out of the hostel after 8pm. Ironically, such a rule is enforced to ensure the safety of the women students. However, the same authorities persistently fail to curb the filthy and offensive rally taken out by men hostellers on the day of Holi. Under the University’s Ordinance XV-D, such an act by the men hostellers outside the women’s hostel amounts to sexual harassment.

As of now the students have been told that new rules are being brought into force across women’s hostels. However, in the high powered committee constituted by DU to formalize such common rules, no women students were called for discussion. One can only expect that in such an exclusive meeting, the DU authorities have come up with a series of rules which are not pro-students.

Lastly, in the bid to stem the tide of rampant victimization by the authorities, the women students have escalated their struggle, and taken their struggle outside the walls of their hostel. They have been protesting against the unwillingness of the authorities to see the campaign as a collective struggle, and, to subsequently, pick out individuals whom they can victimize. On the 16th of March, they also protested outside the Vice Chancellor’s office. Now they are in the process of involving and uniting students of other women’s hostels of DU.

TIMELINE

14th Jan: First Notification of the Hostel Union elections for 2011-12.

20th Jan: Clarification Notification put up by authorities specifying that residents with 5 memos or more cannot stand for elections.

20th Jan: First Meeting of residents on the issue of the election criteria specified by the authorities. Decision taken by residents to draft a memorandum & collect signatures in support of reverting back to the election criteria that prevailed earlier in UHW.

22nd Jan: Second Meeting of residents. Drafted memorandum is discussed, and additional points added in response to the Constitution put up by the authorities on 22nd Jan. Residents express concern on how: (i) this hostel union constitution was amended by the authorities without gathering the consent of the residents through a GBM; and (ii) that a change in the election criteria was arbitrarily introduced without ratifying it first in a GBM which had a proper quorum, i.e. a sizeable number of hostel residents present and voting.

23rd Jan: A delegation of 5 residents submits the memorandum to the hostel authorities. The memorandum carried 193 signatures of hostel residents. Authorities decide to go ahead with the election on a provisional basis, and give verbal assurance that the residents’ objections will be forwarded to DU’s legal advisor.

25th Jan: Third Meeting of students to discuss next course of action as well as other pressing concerns as strict implementation of hostel rules. More than half the residents attend the meeting and resolve to put up posters on Republic Day expressing their dissent, as well as sit on protest on 27th January, 2012. An organizing committee is constituted to manage the preparations for Saraswati Puja as the residents resolve not to involve the outgoing union members whose tenures have lapsed and who no longer reside in the hostel.

26th Jan: In response to the posters some of the hostel authorities make aggressive speeches after the flag hoisting. Angered residents assemble in the badminton court in large numbers, and decide to again approach the hostel authorities on the issue of hostel elections, the union constitution imposed by them, and the need for the authorities to attend a meeting addressing concerns of the residents with respect to hostel rules, etc. The authorities agree to: (i) postpone elections till the issue of the election criteria is resolved; (ii) forward the residents’ written objections as well as the constitution drafted by residents, to the Legal Advisor; and (iii) meet ALL the residents together via a meeting within a week.

27th Jan: Drafting Committee chosen by the residents starts drafting the hostel union constitution keeping the democratic interests of the residents in mind. The committee also drafts the constitution in a manner which allows for a strong and independent union to be elected into office.

31st Jan: The authorities put up a notice withdrawing certain elections criteria previously announced, but continue to uphold the Constitution that was introduced by them without gathering the consent of UHW residents.

1st Feb: Residents in large numbers attend the Meeting called to ratify the Constitution drafted by the Drafting Committee. In the Meeting residents also voice the need to amend certain hostel rules. In the process of this discussion it was decided that further suggestions and feedback should be collected.

3rd Feb: The Constitution drafted and ratified by residents is submitted to the hostel authorities. 221 signatures, which constitutes an Absolute Majority of the present hostel population, are collected in support of the Constitution. In the covering letter the residents request for a speedy response, i.e. a response within one week.

6th-10th Feb: A survey to collect the residents’ opinions on hostel rules is circulated in all the blocks. Nearly 160 residents fill out the survey. Almost all the residents opt for some kind of change in hostel rules.

13th Feb: Due to the delayed response of the authorities, and lack of any communication from them, another Meeting of the residents is called. All those present and voting agree to boycott dinner on 14th February.

14th Feb: After collecting more signatures of the residents in support of the boycott call, the memorandum intimating the authorities of the boycott is submitted to avoid wastage of food. Almost half of the hostel residents agree to boycott dinner on 14th. Rather than being concerned about the condition of the residents boycotting dinner, the authorities spent the whole day individually intimidating those who support the boycott call. The students were compelled to write application saying they withdraw from the boycott. Even after submitting such applications, many such students continued to boycott dinner. This clearly reflects the moral victory of the residents.

16th Feb: A secret poll is held during dinner time by the residents to ask the residents whether they want to carry on with the protest or not. Residents in full strength supported the continuance of the campaign. The polling is intervened by the Warden trying to take pictures and intimidate the girls. Then, around 9.30 pm Asst.Proctor Mr. Kasim walks in with the Warden and the Resident tutor. He invites the residents to talk. A discussion takes place where he is intimated of all the issues of the campaign and the individual victimization of the residents who had signed the memorandum for boycotting dinner on the 14th. He invites a few residents to the Proctor’s Office the next day, to talk to the Proctor, with their memorandums. The residents were unable to understand the reason for the intervention of Proctor’s Office as it was not a law and order situation, yet they agreed.

17th Feb: A delegation of residents goes to submit the memorandum at around 1.30 pm. They are called again by the Asst. Proctor at around 3.30 pm to talk. They talk to him in detail about the issues covered in the memorandum. The Proctor was not available and so the residents were not able to meet her then. At around 4.35 pm the Proctor herself called the residents to meet her at the Proctor’s Office. The residents went and started to brief her about the issues, but the Proctor was in a haste to leave for a meeting at 5.00 pm and left this meeting mid-way. Thus no conclusion was reached on this day. Bu the Proctor’s Office did assure that individual victimization of the resident will certainly stop.

18th Feb: Despite the given assurance that no victimization will take place, the Warden called up the parents of a number of students. In this conversation the picture painted was such that the residents were portrayed as ruckus makers. The residents of the hostel come from different sections of the society and such a false picture may be taken apprehensively by some households.

20th Feb: Since the authorities did not stand by their own words and the victimization continued, the residents agreed to hold a Mass Meeting outside the Vice-Chancellor’s office on the 21st February. In the evening of the 20th, the Provost comes to the hostel and called for a meeting with all the residents immediately. The only conclusion that could be reached was that the authorities gave it in writing that a managing committee Meeting will be held between 8th March and 15th March to resolve the issue. In return, the residents gave in writing that they will not hold the protest outside the VC’s office because they were assured that no victimization shall take place and that the meeting would be held within the given dates. The residents mentioned that they reserve the right to intimate the Vice Chancellor about the situation in the Hostel.

29th Feb to 12th March: Despite the assurance that no resident would be asked to explain her stand on the campaign, Maya John, a C-block resident is given letter after letter, asking her to explain her stand and to give clarifications for different allegations put on her.

13th March: Without informing the residents, the promised Managing Committee Meeting is held on this date in a very hushed up manner without any student’s representative, without the knowledge of the residents. This meeting continued for an hour and no notice was put up about the results of the meeting.

Contact: Maya John (91-9350272637)

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