Updated: July 4, 2020 11:33:57 am
A group of students from Panjab University sat in protest outside the Vice-Chancellor’s office on Friday, after being pressured by hostel wardens and the Dean Student Welfare (DSW) to vacate their hostel rooms and go back home.
Around 150 students, mostly research scholars, have been residing in the university hostel throughout the lockdown, who state that travelling back home during the pandemic will not only expose them to the virus, but affect their research work as well.
“Our two main issues are the threat to our health and the effect it will have on our research work. Some of us are scared that we might catch the virus while travelling back to our homes, others don’t want to go back home to red zone areas such as Delhi,” says Jaidev Vishnoi, a research scholar in English and Cultural Studies. Research scholars in the university need access to online journals and databases which they can access for free using the university wifi.
Furthermore, some students do not have the resources at home like access to a strong internet network, which is necessary for them to complete their academic work. “Students need resources on campus to finish work. So much so that the scholars who did vacate their hostels have been trying to come back so that they can resume their studies, and here they are trying to get rid of students who are already here,” Vishnoi adds.
In a letter addressed to PU Vice-Chancellor Raj Kumar, a few students, including Vishnoi, have underlined the reasons in detail why they cannot vacate their hostel rooms right now. In the letter, the students state that it is shameful that the university is coercing them to leave campus in an ‘extremely stressful and anxious time’, when they should be a source of support and provide extra care to their students. The letter also states that students who come from small cities and remote villages will face social stigma and “threat” if they travel back to their homes from Chandigarh, where there are already more than 450 cases of COVID-19.
“We can become a source of infection for them, and be castigated by the community. Our parents don’t want us to come back either,” says another research scholar from the Political Science Department.
Another research scholar, Dheeru, who is also visually impaired, says it is extremely insensitive for the university to ask him to travel back home in such circumstances. “My home is 1,200 kilometres away. I usually need an attendant to come with me when I travel. Will they ensure that I safely reach home?” says Dheeru. “They don’t want to take responsibility for us here, let alone arrange our travel. And when they allowed for COVID suspects to stay in hostels, how can they deny us our hostel rooms?” adds the student, referring to the COVID care quarantine centres set up inside two PU hostels by the UT Administration.
Students protesting outside the V-C office demanded that the DSW or the Dean University Instruction (DUI) engage with them and assure them that they will no longer be pressured to vacate hostel rooms. However, none of these officials arrived to interact with the students while they continued their protest till 5 pm. A group of wardens was sent to placate the students, who also assured them that a meeting will be held to discuss the matter further. “There was no assurance given, it was a lukewarm reply. We asked them to include student representation in these meetings while making their decision. If they continue to pressurise us to leave, we will continue our protest,” Dheeru says.
DSW S K Tomar says that students were staying in hostel rooms with the goal to finish examinations before leaving, but now there is uncertainty regarding when these examinations will be held.
“Teachers are not visiting campus and corona cases our rising. We interacted with students to impress upon them that they should leave if they can, especially those who belong to neighbouring states. This step was taken keeping in mind the safety of residents, as COVID cases will only peak soon,” Tomar says.
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