Every year hundreds of young men and women, belonging to the Adi Dravida community, migrate from the villages and small towns of Tamil Nadu to the city in the hope of getting good education and employment later on. But the condition of the 22 government hostels for them is pathetic.
M. Kala, a student of history at a city college, stays at the government hostel for Adi-Dravida girls in Royapuram, where eight hostels are clubbed in one small building. Kala says around 600 schoolgirls, working women, teacher trainees and college going girls live in the 30-odd rooms there. “We are herded together like cattle, at least 20 women staying in each room,” she says.
Overcrowding is a problem at M. C. Raja Boys Hostel in Saidapet, too, where there are 1,000 students at an accommodation for 400 students. The students say they hail from poor families and cannot afford private accommodation.
Most Adi Dravida hostels have poor infrastructure.
At Royapuram, the water stagnates in the toilets and there is no waste disposal system in place.
A huge pile of garbage greets visitors at the entrance. Because of poor hygiene, hostellers become vulnerable to diseases, says Kala.
At the Saidapet hostel, the terrace serves as an open toilet for students, as they do not use the toilets that are dingy and unclean.
The hostel does not have wash basins, either. Most students use the corridors and open spaces inside the building to dump waste. The stench of decaying food fills the corridors and rats can be seen feeding on them.
With examinations round the corner for many students, the atmosphere is hardly congenial for studying. “We have a library for namesake. But it has remained shut for over a year now,” says Muthu*, a resident of the hostel.
Most hostels do not have back up options during power cuts. “Many students study in the open ground of the nearby Veterinary College as the hostel environment is not suitable for studies”, he adds.
Negotiating for better facilities is difficult for these students.
The girls at Royapuram say that when government officials come to the hostel for inspection, the warden make sure officials never come to know of the poor conditions.
The students living in these hostels also complain about the poor quality of food.
Social activist A. Narayanan recently filed a complaint with the State Human Rights Commission highlighting the poor condition of government hostels.
He says: “Even prisons are better compared to the Adi Dravida hostels here. I know many students who do part-time jobs as waiters or helpers in marriage halls so that they can eat at least one good meal a day. These students deserve better.”
(Originally published in The Hindu, Chennai edition, dated Apr 20, 2009)