Written by Sukrita Baruah and Ashna Bhutani
At this time every year, thousands of young people travel from their home states to the Capital with a mission — to claim a seat in one of Delhi University’s undergraduate colleges.
Armed with their sky-high school leaving percentages, they often find that the road to these colleges and to making Delhi their home is not an easy one. Glitches in the admission process, particularly for students from state education boards; language and culture gaps; accommodation woes; and general unfamiliarity with the city make this process far from smooth.
But that does not stop the influx. Out of a total of 2,58,388 undergraduate applicants to DU this year, more than half — 1,46,955 — were from outside Delhi. Last year, over 70 per cent of the student body in prominent colleges like Shri Ram College of Commerce, Miranda House, Hindu College, Kirori Mal College and Ramjas College was from states other than Delhi.
This year, the first cut-off list for undergraduate admission to the university was released on June 28, and since then, the queues haven’t dwindled.
95.8 per cent marks; BA (Hons) English, Miranda House
Satabdee Saikia landed in Delhi on June 27, a day before Delhi University released the first cut-off list for its courses. A resident of Jorhat town in Assam, the 18-year-old had her sights set on Miranda House college in North Campus, and with 93.8 per cent marks and rank six in the Assam State Board Class 12 examination, she was confident of making the cut.
However, when she arrived at the college with her marksheets, she was told that two of the six subjects she had in school were not recognised by DU —Alternative English and Education.
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“The cut-off for English for Scheduled Tribes was 92.5 per cent. The aggregate for my best four subjects was 93.8 per cent, which also included Alternative English. I was told that if I were to include Alternative English or Education in my best of four subjects, 10 marks would be cut from either of the two,” says the younger of two siblings, who put up at the home of a family friend in Faridabad during the course of the admissions.
For the next few days she made multiple visits to Miranda House. “Elective English is recognised by DU. After going through the syllabus I realised that it was the same for Elective English and Alternative English,” she says.
About what kept her going, Satabdee talks about her mother’s struggles. “From a small town, she fought against all odds to study in Gauhati University. This was at a time when women would not even step out to study,” she says.
Satabdee also reached out to the Assam Students Association, Delhi (ASAD), for help. Says Ranjan Bora from ASAD, “Two days after the first list was released, she and her family came to us. They had almost given up.”
With things not working out at Miranda, Satabdee decided to take admission in Indraprastha College for Women, her second choice. However, soon there was good news.
“I spoke to the principal of Miranda House and told her about my case. A day later, DU released a circular stating that Alternative English was equivalent to Elective English. This meant that I had made it!” she beams.
There was more in store. “When applying for a language course, DU awards two extra percentage points to those who have an additional subject in that language. Since I was applying for English (Hons), and I had both English and Alternative English in Class 12, my aggregate shot up to 95.8 per cent,” she smiles, adding, “This was my first trip to Delhi. The experience has only made me stronger.”
The news also came as a big relief for Satabdee’s family, who had been accompanying her daily to her college visits. “We will miss her but we are proud,” says Satabdee’s father, who has a tea garden back in Jorhat. Her mother, who is a principal at a government school in Jorhat, says they will celebrate once they are back in town with Satabdee’s older brother, who could not come with them to Delhi. “My brother recently started his own Indo-Chinese food chain… He always motivated me,” says Satabdee.
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Mostly soft-spoken, Satabdee lights up while talking about her culture. “Our tribe, the Kachari tribe, is known for its rice beer. The three Bihus — Bohaag, Maagh and Kaati — are celebrated with lot of revelry… But now that I have got admission at DU, I don’t think I will be able to visit home at the time. There are no holidays then,” she says.
With the help of ASAD, the 18-year-old has also found accommodation at a paying guest accommodation for students from the Northeast, but hopes to get into the Miranda House Girls’ Hostel eventually. “It will be more reasonable and convenient,” she says.
As she waits for another list, Satabdee says lessons from Nelson Mandela’s biography, her favourite book, keep her going through the tough times. “Good things take time. The four-day-long wait for admission was agonising but it all turned out well in the end.”
M K Diya
98 per cent marks; B.Com Programme, Ramjas College
In Class 9, three of my friends and I had gone for a picnic. We were talking about our future when one of the girls proposed that all of us study at Delhi University. I had never heard of it before but the idea sounded exciting,” recalls M K Diya. “But it was only in Class 12 that I first began to look up commerce colleges… All the colleges in the top 10 list were from DU. That is when I began to seriously prepare to get into the Shri Ram College of Commerce,” she says.
A year later, on June 27, when the 18-year-old got off the train from Kozhikode, Kerala, at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Station with her father, after a two-day long journey in the general class coach of Mangala Lakshadweep Express, she was firmly holding on to that dream, along with her Class 12 marksheet with a 98 per cent score. It was her first time in north India.
“I arrived in Delhi with only my marks and Maithry,” she laughs, referring to the Malayali students’ association in DU with which she had been in touch before coming to the Capital.
“We have come for a big adventure,” she says exuberantly. And that ‘adventure’ began from the time they arrived — a day before the admissions to DU colleges began on June 28. For one, Diya’s Hindi vocabulary is but a smattering of words, while her father, Kunmuhammad Koya, 70, struggles with English too, which made it hard for them to find their way around. They also did not have any acquaintances in the city and no place to stay for the night.
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Fortunately, Diya’s WhatsApp conversations with the Maithry members helped, and two of them met the father and daughter at the platform. They also booked a cab for them to DU’s North Campus where a get-together for Malayali aspirants had been organised.
Diya says she had tried to prepare for her Delhi trip by downloading cab booking apps, “but could not learn how to use them”. “The cab dropped us off somewhere… We tried to ask the guards outside the buildings about our location but they spoke only in Hindi. The Hindi sounded very different from films,” says Diya, the younger of two sisters.
Finally, after about 20 minutes in the June heat, she found her way to the venue. The event also brought clarity on the course, she says. “I wanted to get admission in B.Com Programme but I wasn’t sure about the college. I didn’t study Maths in school, so B.Com (Honours) and Shri Ram College of Commerce were ruled out. I met some seniors from Maithry who study in Ramjas College. They had many good things to say about the college.” She was confident that with an aggregate of 98 per cent (in four subjects) in her Class 12 Kerala Board examination most doors would be open to her.
That evening, she made a visit to the college, which by now she was sure of getting admission to. “I loved it. The college looks so much better than the photos they have put up on the website. The best part is how green the campus is, and there are birds and squirrels flitting around,” she says.
After a long, tiring day, Maithry members helped Diya and her father settle down for the night at a hostel near North Campus run by the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre.
There was also a good news in store: DU’s first cut-off list was released the same night and Diya found that she had comfortably qualified for the B.Com Programme course at Ramjas College, which had a cut-off of 97 per cent.
However, the next day, Diya realised that the road to her dream college was a long and tough one. She started early, leaving the hostel with her father at 7.30 am on admission day. Together they first found a cafe and took a print-out of the college application form. As they arrived at Ramjas College, the room for the B.Com Programme admissions was the most crowded, and it took Diya over two hours to submit the form.
This was followed by hours of waiting outside the admission committee room for document verification. Through the process, Diya held on fiercely to her grey plastic folder which had all her documents. Finally, around 4 pm, she emerged from the admission committee room beaming.
While Diya’s father Kunmuhammad Koya was by his daughter’s side through the process, he had not always been convinced of sending Diya “so far”, he says.
“During my Class 12, I would mention going to DU sometimes but my parents never took me seriously. After my results were declared on May 8, I qualified for Devagiri College near our home. Nobody my parents knew had studied in Delhi and they considered Devagiri College to be much better,” says Diya.
Negative feedback about the Capital’s “different and unpleasant culture” from relatives, who had lived in the city earlier, added to the family’s apprehensions.
That is when WhatsApp came to her rescue. “A senior from my school who is in Hindu College added me to a Maithry WhatsApp group. There I learnt of an orientation session in Kozhikode. I forced my father to come. By the end of it, he was more convinced than me,” she smiles.
As Diya completed her paperwork at the college on the admission day, a stream of paying guest facility brokers approached her father. “One month, how much?” he asked, in broken English, to which most replied, “Starting Rs 12,000.”
He smiled, accepted their cards, but then went on to mumble about their unaffordability. An air-conditioner mechanic, Koya is currently out of work.
For now, Diya has taken a hostel application form, but says she would feel more “secure” sharing a PG room with her close friend who has taken admission in Hindu College. She is hoping Maithry will help her with that too.
For now the 18-year-old wants to make the most of her time in the Capital and plans to visit the Red Fort before going home. “Let’s take a selfie in front of my college. Oh wow, I can now say it’s my college!” she tells her father and takes off.
87 per cent marks; BA (Honours) Hindi, Miranda House
Eighteen-year old Manisha (who goes by only her first name) never considered studying in a university closer to her village near Kanpur. It was always going to be Delhi University.
On June 29, when she completed the admission procedure for BA (Honours) Hindi at the university’s prestigious Miranda House, she became the first woman from her village Natthapur to enroll in a university in a major city.
“Ever since I learnt of Delhi University years ago, I knew I had to study here. But even if I had not made the cut-offs for the colleges, I would have enrolled for a diploma in some other institution here. The facilities I require are here in Delhi and I have always found people who can help me. I think it would be impossible for me to make my way around a university in Uttar Pradesh,” she says.
Diagnosed with 100 per cent visual impairment at birth, Manisha has spent the last 12 years of her life in Delhi, away from her family, because of this limitation back home.
Her father Ram Chander recalls that when she was either five or six, a “sajjan (good person)” told him to fill up some papers to send her to a charitable school for the blind in Delhi. The suggestion came at a time when Chander, a daily wage labourer, and his wife were running out of options. The only school for girls in the village, which is up to Class 8, had told them they were not equipped to handle a visually impaired student.
Hence Manisha enrolled at Rashtriya Virjanand and Kanya Senior Secondary School in Vikaspuri, West Delhi. Since completing school, she has been living at a hostel in Chhattarpur in South West Delhi and doing a three-month computer course with an NGO.
The past few days have meant navigating a Delhi Manisha had not encountered before. Located on DU’s North Campus, Miranda House is 18 km from Vikaspuri and on the other end of the city from Chhattarpur.
“I hardly explored the city when I was in school. We shuttled between the hostel and school building and that was all. For the last five days, I have been waking up, rushing to some part of the city for work, spending the day running around, travelling back to my hostel in Chhattarpur in the evening, and collapsing on my bed. Perhaps I will get used to it, but right now it is a little frightening.”
Getting admitted to Miranda House with 87 per cent in her school leaving exam was perhaps the simplest step in her voyage to DU. She was admitted to the college under the Persons with Disabilities (PwD) reservation, for which there was a cut-off of 81 per cent in Hindi (Honours) at the college. Now Manisha is trying to find a place to stay. On July 5, she returned to the college to fill up a hostel application form, but she is not very confident about it. “Only those with the highest marks get hostel accommodation. I can’t rely on just this one option, it wouldn’t be prudent,” she says.
Manisha managed the college admission all by herself, but her father, 62, is here to help with the hostel. He came by the 6:30 am train and will leave in the night itself. “The hostel that I am going to apply for requires me to be accompanied by a parent, otherwise I would have done this myself too. I’m feeling so bad that my father had to come in this heat,” she says.
They are headed for a hostel for college-going visually impaired girls in Rohini, which is 18 km from Miranda House. They take a battery rickshaw from the college to the Vishwavidyalaya Metro Station, then a 50-minute bus ride to Madhuban Chowk in North West Delhi. The monotony of the journey is broken when Manisha finds on the bus two friends from her school, Sinki and Suman, who tell her they have got admission in DU’s IP College for Women.
Accompanied by their fathers and other relatives, they too are headed for the same hostel. Getting off the bus, they all hire a shared van for a 15-minute ride, followed by a five-minute walk. During the bumpy van ride, Manisha whispers to Sinki, “Hum yeh roz kaise karenge (How will we do this every day)?”
But soon she cheers up. “It’s true that right now it seems impossible to do this every day but if we don’t get college hostel seats, we will have to do it. We will manage. We will also apply to Rajiv Gandhi Hostel, which is not that far from our colleges,” Manisha says later.
Asked if it would be easier for them to travel by Metro, they let out a collective sigh. “Of course, it would. All the facilities we need are there in the Metro, but it’s very expensive. We have passes for free travel in buses,” says Sinki.
In Manisha’s family, no one doubts she can overcome this obstacle too. Neither of her parents went to school, while two of her elder sisters didn’t study beyond Class 5, the third dropped out after Class 12, while the fourth is finishing graduation in Kanpur. “Fifty years ago, in the villages, who even thought so much about education?” admits Chander.
Manisha does not speak much about her village, a place that for the past 12 years she has visited only twice a year for brief trips.
“I feel really happy I’m the first girl from my village who will study in a college in Delhi. Meri tareef bhi bahut hoti hai (Everyone is also full of praise for me),” she giggles.
The way ahead is also sparkling clear to her, not clouded by any doubt. “I want to be a schoolteacher and teach girls like me. I want to make people aware that people like us can do anything.”
G Sai Tanishka
Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh
10 CGPA, converted to 96.04 per cent; Kirori Mal College, BSc (Honours) Mathematics
G Sai Tanishka spent three months convincing her parents to agree to send her to Delhi University. “All my cousins are studying engineering. My family wanted me to do engineering too, but I wanted to pursue pure sciences. My parents were also against the idea of me studying so far from home,” she says.
Once her father, a journalist at Telugu daily Sakshi, and mother agreed, Tanishka thought she was almost there. She had scored a CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point Average) of 10 in the Andhra Pradesh school board exams, which she thought would convert to 100 per cent, guaranteeing her a seat in DU’s Lady Shri Ram College, which topped her list.
An hour to go for the release of DU’s first cut-off list, Tanishka landed in Delhi with her parents from Vijayawada.
Tanishka had completed her first level of application for BSc (Honours) Mathematics at LSR when officials objected that CGPA was not recognised by DU. Some of her friends with similar marks found themselves in the same predicament. “We had fought so hard to get here but it seemed to keep getting tougher. Praveen Prakash, Andhra’s Resident Commissioner in Delhi, and the Andhra Students’ Organisation AIKYATHA were really helpful,” Tanishka says.
On June 29, the Andhra board released marks of its students against their CGPAs so that they could apply to DU. But more setbacks awaited Tanishka. After the conversion to marks, her score came down to 96.04 per cent. While Tanishka was disheartened, it still left LSR doors open for her as the college’s first cut-off for her course in the EWS category she had applied under stood at 96 per cent. But then, before she could secure admission, her grandfather had a heart attack and died, and the family had to rush home.
Tanishka returned to Delhi on July 4, too late to get admission under the first list and, as per the rules, ineligible for admission in the second. She decided to write to Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu, who belongs to Andhra and who had raised the problems being faced by the state’s students with HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal.
For now, Tanishka has taken admission in BA Mathematics (Honours) at Kirori Mal College, while keeping an eye out for Miranda House. “I am happy with Kirori Mal as it has a good Mathematics faculty,” she says, ready to search for a paying guest accommodation that serves South Indian food and is located close to a coaching institute where she can prepare for higher studies.
Asserting that it had to be DU and nothing else for her, Tanishka says, her eyes shining, “I gave up on all my other dreams for DU. I was admitted to St Xaviers Mumbai and Kolkata, Christ and BASE in Bangalore. I also had high scores in JEE Mains… Everyone is happy at home now that I have got the course I wanted. I do not want to study engineering, take up a job and get married. I want to pursue academics, either in India or abroad.”
As she scrolls down her phone waiting for momos at a Tibetan restaurant in Majnu ka Tilla, metres from DU, Tanishka’s eyes twinkle a bit more reading an email she has just received. Her father has written to her saying the Vice-President had forwarded her message to the Dean of DU, who had agreed to meet her.
Later, the Dean would express regret, but it was enough for Tanishka