GIRLS’ HOSTELS NEED URGENT ATTENTION
Today, as the number of Indians swells, for example in the Silicon Valley, one sees well-maintained Indian temples, special classes in Indian...
Today, as the number of Indians swells, for example in the Silicon Valley, one sees well-maintained Indian temples, special classes in Indian classical music and dance, yoga and meditation workshops, abundant outlets for Indian food, clothing , entertainment and social gatherings on special days like Ugadi, Diwali, etc. which are unique to our calendar
On my frequent visits abroad, I have observed that till a few years ago, for many of the immigrants, adjusting to the foreign soil was like being uprooted from one’s native land, but it is no longer such a traumatic experience. Rather, one sees the best habits, cultural festivals and the fondness for everything that is “Indian”, more in the NRIs than in many of us here. This is true not just for Indians but also for other foreign nationals.
Today, as the number of Indians swells, for example in the Silicon Valley, one sees well-maintained Indian temples, special classes in Indian classical music and dance, yoga and meditation workshops, abundant outlets for Indian food, clothing , entertainment and social gatherings on special days like Ugadi, Diwali, etc. which are unique to our calendar. All these foster a feeling of well-being, security, a positive ambiance that enables all Indians to continue their stay comfortably, work better and contribute positively. They no longer suffer the pangs of separation as their predecessors did, as if they are neither here nor there.
What I appreciate here is the far-sightedness of the respective countries and their governments in accommodating the multicultural setups while expecting them to work efficiently and contribute in any field. I wish that we too show similar accommodative attitude and do not denude a person of his or her private space in faith, culture and traditions, for however backward an individual may be economically and academically, no human merely lives on food alone but on many other things which make life meaningful and worthy for him or her, based on the environments they were brought up in. I am not referring to the agitations and uproar when people are uprooted from their lands for the sake of ‘development’ in the form of dams or companies.
I am referring to our efforts to provide ‘equal’ opportunities for girl students in our country to pursue higher education with confidence. India, as a nation, has decided to welcome and encourage education of the girl child and women .We talk of equity and aspire for the benefits of equity to reach every Indian who had been deprived of many benefits so far. In a historic step in this direction, we have allotted a considerable chunk of seats in education for the girl child and have offered free education at the primary level and even the secondary level up to some extent.
But have we really created the necessary ‘study environment’ for these girls who are now expecting to pursue higher education in earnest? The girls may come from economically backward areas and may be the first generation learners; they may not have had even one square meal a day in their homes, and or enjoyed fans, computers, etc. in their homes, but it does not give us a right to ignore their basic needs, be blind to their sentiments, safety, security and further claim that all is being done to meet the Millennium goals just because they have been offered a seat in a college and a shelter to hide their heads! How can we dream of equity while showing indifference and apathy? The recent agitations by the girl students of Osmania University hostels, similar unrest by the girl students of Acharya Nagarjuna University hostels and many more such incidents, year after year, seem to have had little effect on the vision of our higherups for uniform opportunities for learning to all.
Way back in the 1960s and 1970s, when I was a member of the O.U Executive council, I suggested time and again a longterm vision that we needed to have an equal number of hostels, if not more, for girl students entering the university portals. Unfortunately, though the number of girls on the campus is now equal to the number of boys, there are only three hostels for girls while there are 10 hostels for boys. Besides, on my visits to these hostels, I am always shocked at the poor living conditions, the overcrowding which is detrimental to health and concentration, the poor sanitary conditions and absolute disregard for the inmates’ cultural preferences and sentiments. Many of our girl students who seek admission into hostels come from rural areas .
Their feeling of alienation from their home environment is almost similar to that of someone going abroad for the first time. They would like to have something to ‘cling-on’, something which makes them feel connected to their ‘natural’ homely surroundings. An image of their ‘local deity’ , some songs and dances of their region and some facility to celebrate the special days of their local culture would certainly make these tribal and rural girl students feel secure inwardly , as if their ‘cord’ with their native places has not been rudely severed. I shared the shock and disillusionment of these girls when I saw a stinking drain pass through one of the small ‘make believe’ temples erected for their deity.
Before attending their classes, all the girls pay obeisance there amidst the rotten smell. Will it make anyone happy to start a day this way? Starting a day on a hungry stomach as food supplies are inadequate , with disturbed sleep because of overcrowded rooms, with leaking taps, blocked drains, foul smell in their sanctum sanctorum …how can we expect improved performance and equal contribution in the nation’s progress by girls who are somehow managing to study in such nightmarish scenarios? More than the boys, I strongly believe that it is the girls who need the security of a hostel .Just as four walls don’t make a ‘home’ , mere rooms and a warden do not make a hostel. The ratio of employed women is far above the number of working women’s hostels and the ratio of hostels for college and university students to the number enrolled is miserably poor.
The facility of a qualified lady doctor and trained nurses is often on paper or in word than in deed .Provision for the teenage girls’ health counselling, be it in nutrition or hygiene or interpersonal relationships, is vital in a nation where more than 80% of the teenage girls are undernourished and anorexic and vulnerable in many ways. A friendly and reassuring hostel environment, not a hostile one, will motivate them to study better, pursue research and fare better. It is time our educators planned, allotted finances and provided well-furnished accommodations in women’s hostels for all women students who seek admission .Along with hygienic surroundings and good food, a minimum concern for their religious and cultural preferences would only be what is expected in a secular nation working for cultural and communal harmony.
The benefits of such congenial surroundings in bonding with the friends, faculty, concentrating better, feeling confident as if they ‘belong’ can never be overstressed. If any institution fails to provide these facilities, would it be wrong to restrict the admissions to only as far as the hostel facilities allow? When developed countries have already shown us how we can make even foreigners feel at home, for our country’s development, can’t we try to make our girl students feel ‘at home’ during their academic pursuits?