18 students, past and present inmates of hostels, depose at consultation

Years of neglect and official apathy to the basic well being of students in Government Adi Dravidar Hostels in Chennai were reflected in the tears and anger of the students at a public hearing on Wednesday.

Eighteen students, past and present inmates of the Adi Dravidar hostels, deposed at a Consultation and Public Hearing on Discrimination and violation of Human Rights standards in Government (Adi-Dravidar) Hostels for College Students in Tamil Nadu. All of them spoke of poor conditions in these Adi Dravidar hostels.

“The State has been granted over Rs 3,000 crore under the Special Component Plan for Dalit welfare. Can anyone tell us where the money is going? It is used for bridges and roads. There is not even a booklet on the funds spent under the plans,” said K. Prem Kumar, setting the tone. “There are 62 IAS officers from the Dalit community in service but still no hope for us,” he said.

A past inmate of the M.C. Raja Hostel in Saidapet, he said that the Chennai Mayor inaugurated a library at the hostel which has no books. While the government announces sports, gym and computer facilities, he said the students have seen none so far.

Pathetic condition

“There is no point in talking about the issues all over again. Everyone knows the pathetic conditions in the Adi Dravidar hostels,” said Manikandan, who stayed at the same hostel. Dalit students have resigned themselves to the fact that they must lead a life of the condemned for the years they stay at the hostel, he said.

All the students complained of the negligence of officials in keeping the campus and toilets clean; of unhygienic food served in plastic buckets; lack of transparency in administration and inefficiency of wardens.

The students were also critical of leaders of Dalit parties for failing to take any effort to improve the conditions in hostels.

Admitting that students, other than those allotted rooms, stayed with them, Pitchai Pillai asked how they could drive away friends from poor families. Students come to study and not protest, he said.

Many students worked in catering service during the evenings to eat good food at least once a day, he said. Students of the PG Hostel in Royapuram said that students worked as security guards in neighbourhood to meet personal expenses.

“Refugees in Chennai”

“We live the life of refugees in Chennai,” said a PG student. Many students said they were prepared to starve but the government must set up library, computers and spoken English classes in hostels. “Our primary goal for coming here is knowledge that will give us job and a dignified life,” said G. Muthuvel, a student of Literature in New College. “The government spends Rs 62 on a sniffer dog everyday. Can't it spend Rs 50 on a Dalit student aspiring to be successful,” asked a student.

Based on the depositions, the six NGOs recommended a complete overhaul of administration in the hostels to ensure hygienic conditions, medical facilities, proper menu lists, and healthy food.

The practice of serving food in buckets must be stopped immediately. Another recommendation strongly suggested prosecution of officials of the Adi Dravidar Welfare Department for decades of negligence and discrimination amounting to atrocities under the SC&ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

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