Explainer: Why Are Students Protesting at Presidency University?

The renovation of the Eden Hindu Hostel at Presidency University, Kolkata, has been going on for five years now, but an end is still far from sight.

The administration had asked hostel residents to evacuate for only 11 months but did not deliver on their promise within the stipulated time. As a result, students were shunted away into flats of HIDCO  in New Town.

It was only after a battle that took place over two months, after waiting for three years, that two wards were returned to the residents. Now, the question arises: if it took three years to renovate only two wards, how much time would the rest take? The administration had reassured us that the remaining wards would be completed as soon as possible. But that didn’t happen.

Suspension of staff

When the boarders approached the dean of students, he dodged their grievances and asked students to reach out to the vice chancellor. The vice chancellor said that the “funds” were stuck with the government and also said the doors of the hostel would be locked if boarders decided to organise a protest.

Two months flew by, and we didn’t see any sign of progress.

More so, the administration decided to deploy only eight mess staff for over 130 students. If there are nine staff at Rajarhat hostel, who provides one meal per day, why has the administration reduced it by one After due consideration of all issues, on January 17, we submitted a deputation to the dean demanding the deployment of more mess staff and the renovation of wards number 3, 4 and 5.

As always, the dean asked the students to contact the VC. In response to deploying more staff, he said, “we should think about the quality of the service and not the quantity.”

Fearing that they might suspend more staff, we demanded a written response from the administration. The dean responded with a letter that said the “undersigned is not the competent authority to discuss on these matter”.

VC responding to deputation submitted by students. Image by special arrangement.

On January 21, we then decided to start a sit-in protest in our campus. But all the administrative post holders, from the development officer to the registrar, has not come out to speak with us till date. When we approached the VC, she trivialised the matter by simply asking the girls standing in solidarity: “Why are you standing in front when the matter concerns the boys’ hostel?”

Also read: Hunger Strike at Presidency University After VC Suspends Agitating Students

The VC reiterated that the funds, allocated for hostel renovation, were stuck in the government office and therefore no work can be done until the funds are available. The renovation, which has been going on for five years, has in effect barred 150 students from seeking accommodation. When we asked about the staff, she said that she would take care of the “service quality”.

Next, we heard that the administration had suspended several staff of the hostel including Bisu da, Srikanta da, Site da and Pratap da, who have fed students daily for at a minimum wage for the past 26 years. If we have never complained about the quality of service, how can that be a pretext to their removal?

Graffiti and banner in university’s main building. Image by special arrangement.

As soon as we got the news, we, on February 3, gheraoed the VC’s office demanding immediate revocation of suspension orders. But the VC somehow managed to evade questions and the confrontational students.

The administration then called for a student-faculty meeting in an attempt to end the protest, but we didn’t budge. But when the VC fell sick, we decided to make way for her on humanitarian grounds. It has been 15 days now and the VC has yet to return to the campus.

Water crisis at girls hostel

As the days progressed, the Presidency University Girls’ Hostel joined us in our protest, asking the administration to make arrangements for a water purifier. Presently, there are only two water purifiers for four floors of the girls’ hostel which houses over 230 students.

Female students have repeatedly demanded the installation of two purifiers on each floor and a permanent solution to the drinking water crisis. However, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

A year ago, the girls’ hostel held a protest asking the administration to lift the 10 pm curfew, which didn’t let students move in and out even if they had a legitimate reasons – such as health issues. The university, on the other hand, sent letters to their parents intimating them about the students’ demands. Unperturbed, the students continued the protest and defied the curfew, which hasn’t been lifted officially.

The university, on the other hand, keeps allocating wards to female students when basic amenities are not in place. A guest fee of Rs 250 per night is also levied even though students have to share their single beds with the guest and no separate food or bedding is provided.

The students of the girls’ hostel, on February 12, joined our movement and gheraoed the dean’s office for six days. While the VC hasn’t set foot on the campus since, the registrar has also been very difficult to catch hold of. The dean of students has not been coming to college since February 19 and has also abstained from work.

Students protesting outside the VC’s office. Photo by special arrangement.

We were told that the dean has forwarded a letter to the VC requesting to setup a meeting between the students and the concerned authorities but it’s been several days since then and there has been no response yet because apparently she wants us to restore a “proper ambience” in the campus. This basically translates to lifting the sit-in protest, which we don’t intend to do. How do we believe someone who has left no stone unturned to break our trust?

Hence, we are doing what we have always done – fighting for our rights. We will continue our sit-in protest until all our demands are met. We want a speedy resolution. We want the immediate reinstatement of Bisu da and others, increase in the number of mess staff, permanent solution to the drinking water crisis, official lifting of curfew and guest charges, and urgent renovation of wards 3,4 and 5.

Ankit Jha is a postgraduate scholar at the department of life sciences and a boarder at the Eden Hindu Hostel.

Featured image credit: special arrangement.