Delhi University Women Students’ Struggle: Open letter in response to the show-cause notice issued by hostel authorities

The Warden
University Hostel for Women (UHW)
University of Delhi

Dear Dr. Tanuja Agarwala,

I am in receipt of a number of letters in which I have been asked to explain/clarify my “conduct” over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, none of these letters issued by you reflect a willingness to understand the issues raised by the hostel residents, and to see them as a democratic expression of the residents’ collective will. Your last letter (dated 12.03.2012) has asked me to clarify why action should not be taken against me, based on the alleged complaint that a few students were “misled” and misinformed into signing the Memorandum calling for a boycott of dinner on 14.02.2012. Your letter categorically refuses to consider the 14th February Memorandum as an expression of the students’ collective will. The very evidence of this fact is that I have been identified as a “culprit” who needs to explain her position, lest action will be taken. I do not wish to be identified as a “hero” of the hostel campaign or a person who can be identified as the “potential victim”. It is high time the authorities of the hostel restrain themselves in identifying individual “culprits” and in scuttling the collective democratic voice of the residents.

The entire campaign and the number of memorandums submitted to the authorities are a collective endeavour where no individual can be identified as the person behind the campaign. Of course, in all campaigns and movements there are some people who take the initiative, and are assertive in expressing the collective will of the others concerned. However, such persons cannot be identified as “instigators” because they are merely expressing in a consistent manner what majority of the people think is right.

Of course, there is always a general possibility that in campaigns/movements there are some individuals who are inconsistent in their position on the issues raised, and therefore, change their position during the course of time. This may explain why some individual residents retracted from their position on the boycott of dinner. However, a change in the position such individuals hold does not mean their earlier position was wrong, or that they were misled into the earlier position they took.

Having said this, in the case of our hostel there is a specific possibility that the authorities resorted to individual intimidation to get some residents to change their position on issues raised. We have indeed come across versions of this intimidation wherein individual residents were called to the hostel office and categorically threatened to withdraw from the campaign otherwise they would not be given extension, their parents would be contacted, their departments intimated, etc. In fact, few parents were called and asked to restrain their daughters. Such draconian, coercive and high-handed practices of the authorities have led to widespread fear amongst a section of the students. It is under such conditions of fear and actual acts of victimization that individual residents were asked to give in writing that they consent to withdraw from the campaign. What else can explain the simple fact that few individual residents began to retract from the boycott call after a lengthy visit to the hostel office? It is another thing that despite all the efforts of the authorities, we are still confident of the support of the majority of students, and therefore, will continue to assert the democratic rights of the residents.

To your allegation that some residents were misinformed into signing the concerned Memorandum, I and several other residents who have studied your letter, have only one thing to say, which is that we find such views unacceptable. This is because residents of this hostel are educated adults who never go around signing documents and memorandums in a fit of absent-mindedness. The Memorandum explaining why a dinner boycott was being called, was properly attached to the signature petition. There were regular announcements made inside the hostel mess, as well as individual dissemination of the boycott’s details during breakfast on the 14th of February. Subsequently, postering on the boycott was also carried out in the hostel on the 14th, which shows that rather than being misinformed and misled into boycotting dinner, individual residents were coerced by you to give up their decision to boycott dinner.

Most importantly, it is wrong to claim that because some students changed their opinion due to victimization or due to certain personal calculations, I and other students are causing “disturbance” in the hostel, and should hence, be punished. It should be recalled that on the 20th of February when the authorities and a section of the students exchanged undertakings in writing, there was a tacit acceptance of the fact that there were two parties of opinion on the issues at stake. It goes against the notion of jurisprudence where a party in conflict of opinion bestows upon itself the power to punish the other party for raising their opinion. Such an approach is neither impartial nor democratic.

It is high time the authorities concede the point that genuine issues are at stake and that there is a collective of women residents who are raising these issues. Elections at the earliest, adoption of the Constitution submitted on 03.02.2012, and the change in hostel rules (such as no exit after 8pm, gate-pass system, issuing of memos, mess rebate, etc.) must be addressed, and should not be trivialized any further. We will not let the hostel authorities victimize individuals or sideline the issues raised by the residents. The authorities have already broken their promise of not indulging in such victimization, as well as their assurance of calling a Managing Committee meeting where a proper discussion can happen with the residents.

Of course, if the authorities still feel certain residents have been misinformed into taking a stand in support of the hostel campaign, then they should ascertain this by holding a secret ballot referendum on the issues raised by the campaign. Perhaps, this is the only way in which UHW residents can prove to all that they are indeed thinking individuals.

Lastly, I am directed by concerned residents to inform you that if any action is taken against me, your office must be prepared to see the struggle continue as well as escalate. This is because when the collective spirit and democratic aspirations have embodied themselves in all the residents, the physical removal of one person makes little difference to the struggle. The authorities should, hence, be under no illusion that by subduing one individual the quest of the residents on their democratic demands will terminate. At the most, it is only for some time that your office will be able to scuttle the democratic voice of the students. Your actions against individuals will always remain a moral defeat in permanence. Hope a better sense prevails.

Yours truly,

Maya John

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