Close to 200 college and school students suffer for want of basic amenities

There is a students’ hostel located in the heart of the city where close to 200 college and school students stay. And, they have no choice but to ease themselves in the parks, playgrounds and open plots in the vicinity.

This is the state of affairs of the inmates of Adi Dravidar Welfare Hostel on Race Course Road (popularly known as Pudur hostel), barely a few kilometres from where the city’s elite reside.

Each room in the hostel is shared by more than 10 students. The hostel lacks basic amenities. There are no chairs or tables. There is no playground or any other recreational facility.

A 2nd year student points out there are six lavatories in the hostel that are dysfunctional for lack of running water. There is only one underground concrete tank, which remains dry most days of the week.

According to the 2012-2013 Policy Note of Adi Dravidar and Tribal Welfare Department, water purifiers have been provided to all the hostels. But the Pudur Hostel does not even have drinking water provision, let alone a water purifier. S. Karuppiah, warden of Pudur Hostel, says that water shortage is a perennial problem in the hostel. “We have to buy water. The hostel has two bore well pumps but only one is working at present. We have given a letter to the authorities about the lack of facilities at the hostel and are waiting for action,” he added.

The hostel inmates hail from rural hamlets that have no access to modern facilities. Most of them are first-generation learners from poor families. Their parents are either daily wage labourers or farm workers, construction labourers, manual workers and small peasants. Most belong to the industrially backward southern districts, including Ramanathapuram, Tirunelveli, Theni, Dindigul, Virudhunagar and Madurai.

Says a student from Ramanathapuram, who did not wish to be named, “Most of us have come here and joined government and government-aided institutions in the hope of getting decent jobs so that we can help our families come out of debt traps.”

Babasaheb Ambedkar said education is the only means of liberation open to the oppressed classes. But the situation in the hostel makes the pursuit of education an ordeal. A random check revealed that many inmates do not have floor mats and sleep on the vinyl boards used as hoardings by political parties.

The boys’ hostel at Sirudhoor near Oomatchikulam, which was built in 2004, is a shade better than the Pudur hostel. But here too the inmates are cramped for space as 52 college students share three rooms. It is mandatory for hostels to have a library, but neither of the hostels has one nor any other recreational facility.

The food served at these hostels is of questionable quality. The students carry plastic and aluminium buckets to ferry food from the kitchen to their rooms, and share it. The students in both the hostels say that they are served idlis for breakfast once a week and that they have never eaten chapattis or pooris for breakfast.

Acute poverty or caste discrimination is the common thread that connects the inmates. The State’s objective should be to provide the much-needed space for them to unfetter the shackles that resulted in their subjugation. “The existing situation makes things more difficult and is nothing but an extension of their lives in the rural interior with no facilities and infrastructure,” says a Dalit PhD scholar from Madurai Kamaraj University, who was an inmate of the Pudur hostel in the late 90s.

Case of discrimination

Kathir, executive director, Evidence (NGO that works for Dalits), Madurai, says that the location of Adi Dravidar hostels in most cases in itself is akin to a case of discrimination as it is either located outside the village or, even if located within, it would be near a neighbourhood slum. “When we did a study of hostels in 2010-11 we found out that 10 students died due to snake bites and all the dead were from SC hostels. That exemplified the spatial location which was full of thorny bushes.”

He says 81.65 per cent of the funds allocated by the ADW Department were spent on educational facilities. Yet this is the state of the infrastructure. There is a need for a grievance redressal forum that could look into specific issues that plague the hostellers.

The Students Federation of India Madurai district rural secretary, Kannan, says, “Whenever the government turns a deaf ear to their genuine demands, students have to protest. In the case of college hostels, there is space for assertion by the students. But in the case of Adi Dravidar hostels, it is a difficult task to organise and protest for their rights.”

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