The safety of girl students and women staff in  campuses across the country has arrested the attention of the University Grants Commission, writes debameeta bhattacharya

REFORM is in the air and it all centres on the setting up of a monitoring committee to look into the safety of women. In what translates into better late than never, the University Grants Commission has written to all state and Central universities to keep a strict vigil on campuses and girls’ hostels and provide better security to avoid a repeat of the Damini episode in New Delhi in December last year.
State universities are expected to soon impose restrictions on male visitors to girls’ hostels on campuses and women employees of varsities will also get scaled-up protection. UGC chairman Ved Prakash has said universities must consider constituting a task force comprising senior colleagues to constantly monitor the existing arrangements. Besides this, the commission has decided to include lessons in gender sensitisation in college syllabi and has proposed methods to be adopted by the authorities in this regard.
In a letter to vice-chancellors of all universities, Prakash said, “Recent disturbing incidents have necessitated a review of our efforts towards providing women increased security and protection on our university campuses. I request you to seriously review the security arrangements for girls and women on our university campuses and, wherever necessary, these arrangements may be further strengthened both in and around  girls’ hostels on the campuses. You may consider putting in place a dedicated task force comprising senior colleagues which can constantly monitor the existing arrangements and the additional ones put into operation.”
In a knee-jerk reaction, most state universities have constituted a “task force” and ordered a check on the visiting hours at girls’ hostels. In Hyderabad, for example, male visitors can meet female students outside the hostel gate till up to 7.30 pm. Movement around girls’ hostels will also be recorded by CCTV.
   In Delhi, affiliated colleges are trying to streamline measures to put a security cordon around girls’ hostels.
Nearly 30 per cent of the students — an estimated 19,000 enrolled in Delhi University colleges — come from outside the capital and vie for just 1,000 openings available to first-year students in campus hostels. Those unlucky enough have to turn elsewhere every year.
Recently, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi visited Jamia Milia Islamia to lay the foundation of a girls’ hostel and sanctioned a grant of Rs 26 crore from the UGC for building the hostel, which is expected to accommodate an additional 400 girls along with the 850 already present on campus. Though there is no dearth of private hostels and paying guest accommodations in the capital, choosing a place is a big headache as students have to keep several parameters in mind, such as distance from college, safety and, most importantly, budgets.
Delhi University&’s North Campus, with its colleges located in close proximity, offers numerous options. Jawahar Nagar and Kamla Nagar, situated right in the heart of the campus and close to market activity, are the major hubs for PG accommodation while areas like Roop Nagar and Shakti Nagar are gaining popularity among those who prefer a residential locality.
“Hygiene, decent food, spacious rooms, wi-fi connections and other facilities make life much easier as an outstation student living here,” said Ekta Batra, a third-year student of economics at Hindu College, who pays more than Rs 10,000 a month for her PG accommodation.
Students who secure admissions in South Campus colleges have a relatively harder time. Most available accommodations at Satya Niketan (a PG hub) are usually full by the first week of July and owners say they start getting requests for accommodation right from the declaration of the first cut-off.
Any move to protect girl students and women staff in schools and colleges is welcome because campuses are not completely safe from eve-teasers and stalkers. When it comes to accommodation, girls have an upper hand over boys as there are ample options in the form of hostels/PGs, where most are located closer to campus, but safety is still an issue. The core theme of the UGC proposal is gender sensitisation and prompt action by monitoring panels to address girls’ concerns. This is laudable and each university must ensure that all affiliated colleges implement the programme in right earnest.
As of now, though, the “objective” is still on paper and the sooner the ball gets rolling the better.