Varanasi- Studying in a premier institute is a dream harbored by many students from poor backgrounds in the country, but very few are able to achieve that. However, when the selected students reach the institute of their dreams, they are confronted with another reality – accommodation, or rather, affordable accommodation. Accommodation is not a problem, but affordable accommodation is.
Educational institutes all over the world have provisions for hostels. The government has extended the benefit of reservations to hostels in educational institutes, but OBC students at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), a central university, have been demonstrating on the campus against the blatant violation of reservation norms.
Speaking to The Mooknayak, Shubham Yadav, a protesting student, said, “By 2009, OBC reservations were supposed to be fully implemented in central institutions. According to information received from an RTI filed by us, BHU received around 450 crore rupees between 2008-09 and 2012-13. With this money, the university constructed around 4,200 rooms in 29 hostels at BHU. Despite all this, the university has yet to implement the 27% OBC reservation in the hostels. The RTI also reveals that around 4,000 students enroll every year, in addition to the students already enrolled. This means that 52,000 students have been denied reservations in the hostels of the university over the last 13 years. This is a long-standing issue, and we have presented memorandums to the Vice-Chancellor on four occasions between February 2020 and January 2022. The university administration dithered by assuring us that they would implement it from the next session onwards, etc., but nothing has been done since.”
Siddhi, another girl student from Ballia enrolled in MA Sociology, says, “There has been a spurt in the prices of rooms and gas cylinders recently, making it difficult for students to afford their expenses for 2-3 years in such conditions. Besides, there is a lot of security for girls inside the campus, which is not the case outside. If 15% of the boys in a class get hostels, only 5% of the girls will get it. It becomes even more challenging for girls from marginalized backgrounds in the absence of reservations.
A female student belonging to the OBC category, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, “I belong to a village in Basti, which is more than 200 kilometers from the campus. I cannot travel daily to attend classes, but I could not get a room in the hostel inside the campus. As a result, I have to pay hefty rent for a private PG accommodation near the university. My father is a small-time farmer and can barely make a living. I have been able to make it to the university because of OBC reservations, and if the reservation of my category was extended to the hostels, I would have been able to afford the hostel, making my education much cheaper and more affordable.”
Vishwajit, a student from Darbhanga, says, “We live in a place that is 3 kilometres from here and is like a slum with open sewers and all the filth. The conditions worsen during the rains, and we are forced to live in sub-human conditions. During this season, 6 out of 10 students in our building got sick during exams, which affected their performance.”
The students also wrote to Union Education Minister Dharmendra Patel. BHU also constituted a committee to look into the matter in 2021 under the Chairmanship of Professor GCR Jaiswal, but the findings and recommendations of the report were suppressed. The students approached National Commission of Backward Classes Chairman Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, who sought a reply from the university administration on 1st of August but did not receive a reply until the 10th of August. After that, the students undertook a signature campaign and mobilized 3,000 signatures for this cause. They also organized open-mike discussions. The students utilized social media to draw the country's attention to their problem and took out a march on 26th of August from inside the campus to Vishwanath Mandir. Following the march, they presented a memorandum to the university administration to implement the reservation.
The students say that exams are currently underway for most students, and after they are free from the exams, they will intensify their agitation.
Speaking to The Mooknayak, Priyanka Sonkar, a faculty member at the university, says, “There is no OBC reservation in hostels, whereas the reservation has been in place since 2009 in all central government institutions. She added, "The irony is that about 4,500 rooms were constructed in 29 hostels using OBC funds, but OBC students are being denied reservations. The movement is gaining momentum, and we will have to see when the issue gets resolved.”