Delhi University's Hansraj College, one of the premier colleges in the country known for its alumni, including Shah Rukh Khan, Anurag Kashyap and the late journalist Vinod Dua, has courted controversy with the construction of a cow shelter, named Swami Dayanand Saraswati Gau Samwardhan evum Anusandhan Kendra (Swami Dayanand Centre for Cow Protection and Research), on land the college had reserved for construction of girls' hostel.
The college currently has a men's hostel with space to accommodate 200 students. Dr Rama Sharma, principal of the college, told a leading national daily that the college is contemplating building it further to research various aspects of cow and provide milk and curd to its students. As per Sharma, the college performs a havan on the first day of every month and will be self-sufficient to produce ghee for the ritual.
However, the move has irked the students and teachers of the college who maintain that it came without any discussion and failed several poor girl students who are waiting to get affordable accommodation in an expensive campus area. Delhi University has 6,040 hostel seats even though about 1.8 lakh students pursue their studies at any given time.
A teacher of the college who requested anonymity told NewsClick that the principal unilaterally decided to build cow shelter, and it wasn't discussed with any teaching or administrative staff.
"The matter of cow shelter construction was never discussed in the staff council. So, it's her personal choice. It is perturbing that the college has fixed four loudspeakers in every direction where Mahamrityunjay Mantra is played day and night even when there isn't anyone in the college. How did she arrive at this decision is still not known. But we all know why the cow was chosen because it drives a certain kind of politics. Why don't you play Gurbani, Hymns from the Bible or Quran if you play this mantra? For years, the college put a board here to get good NAAC ratings, and when you get them, you forget your role as a public institution and come up this shelter!"
Talking to NewsClick over the phone, Samaa, a second-year student of Philosophy (Hons.), expressed disbelief and anguish over the decision. Hailing from India's one of the most backward districts, Bastar in Chhattisgarh, Samaa said that the college has failed the students by prioritising the construction of a cow shelter over women's hostel even though the matter has been pending for years now.
"When I heard the news, I thought somebody was joking with us. One of my friends went to college to verify the veracity of news and found it to be true. I was seething with anger at how a college run by a public education institution like Delhi University could do so. They used the pandemic to build this cow shelter even when the administration was fully aware that the girl students of the college needed a hostel desperately. The college can't understand that a women's hostel generates confidence among the parents to send their children to universities for studies. These girl students feel safe within the campus. Delhi is already notorious for crimes against women. Second, the students from marginalised backgrounds look at these hostels with hope. A hope that they will get some concession in accommodation to study here and overcome the barriers of poverty and humiliation."
She added that the college took the decision unilaterally without discussing it with students and teachers.
"They built it when students are away from the campus due to the pandemic. The teachers are also unaware of the decision. The more absurd part is that they are switching goalposts by saying that the land parcel is too small to build a hostel. The college had put a hoarding on the same land notifying it as a site for girls' hostel." To prove her point, she showed pictures juxtaposed revealing situations in 2019 and 2022.
She highlighted that the Delhi University Act mandates that institutions affiliated with it should provide accommodation to the students, not construct cow shelters. Section 33 of Delhi University Act, the guiding legislation behind running of the institution, states, "Every student of the University (other than a student who Residence pursues a course of study by correspondence) shall reside in a College, a Hall, or under such conditions as may be prescribed by the Ordinances."
Students also maintain that the accommodation in the north campus of Delhi University could cost as much as Rs 1,20,000/annum, putting the families in a severe financial burden to support studies of girl students.
Mushfin, unit secretary of the Students' Federation of India, who brought the matter to attention, said, "The need for one is something none of us is able even to begin to fathom. In 2019, our principal gave an interview to a mainstream newspaper emphasising the need for a women's hostel. It is an understood fact within the student community in Hansraj that this land has only been allotted to keep a charade when the NIRF Rankings come knocking at our door. Women from regions other than the NCR find it difficult to find safe and affordable housing in the city. For them, the facility of a hostel on campus – especially for scholarship/reservation students who may get some concessions – is the best option to pursue their academics."
He added, "As colleges shut down because of the pandemic, our college administration demanded full and bulk fees payment even though most of our families were suffering economic hardships. Now imagine our surprise when we learn that while the campus has been shut, the college has finished the construction of a full-fledged cow shelter without any warning or discussion with the student community."