With two girls to a room, the accommodation at Panjab University girls’ hostel 3 looks far more spacious than its 7.5ft x 12.5ft size would suggest, and compared to its Patiala counterpart. Sarojini Hall, also known as girls’ hostel 3, is infamous for fluctuation, faulty wiring and load shedding. A room on the second floor went up in flames in January. The occupants had escaped unhurt, but all their belongings were gutted.
“Small sparking incidents are quite common in this hostel. It was built in 1967 and hasn’t undergone much renovation since,” says Nihal Kaur, who is in her second year of a post-graduate course in human rights. She and her roommate Aisha Jamal, a second-year student of zoology, are in room 128 on the fourth floor.
The room is rectangular in shape with a narrow passage between two beds. The girls share a study table and cupboard. They say the university does not mention the size of the room in its hostel brochure. “They don’t even tell us that we’ll be sharing a cupboard. I have too many clothes and Didi (Nihal) has too many books,” chuckles Aisha, who is from Malerkotla.
Each floor has five units with seven rooms in each unit. Attached to each unit is a washroom, which means 14 girls use it. “But it’s not that bad. We have a ‘balti’ system and the washrooms are clean all the time. We don’t get too much of a crowd either,” says Nihal, who is also a student floor-in-charge.
The girls, one Sikh and the other Muslim, have found a synergy in their lifestyles. They wake up around the same time between 7.30 am and 8.30 am as classes begin at 9.15 am. Then they head to breakfast that starts at 7 am and ends at 10 am.
While Nihal’s classes get over by 1 pm, Aisha still has to attend classes from 2 pm to 5 pm after lunch. But then, it is back for evening tea and snacks, dinner between 8.30 and 10 and off to bed. “We study a little, but the fun starts after 1 am. Aisha likes to sing and loves watching movies, so we have a good time,” says Nihal.
On weekends, the girls order rolls and pizzas. There is no restriction on ordering food from outside. In fact, the guard downstairs escorts the residents to collect their orders. But curfew is strictly 11 pm and there is a hefty fine of Rs 250 for late returns. Attendance is compulsory, and the penalty is Rs 50. The roommates don’t support 24-hour open hostels and say even men’s hostels should have timings.
“See, the gates are closed between 11 pm and 5 am. All you have to do is come back anytime after 5 am if you want to stay out. For those who want to study in the library, there’s a form that has to be signed,” says Nihal, adding that an outgoing person who likes to socialise might feel restricted. “But that is not the case for everyone.”
Aisha agrees, “Restrictions are necessary in a hostel. There should be some discipline for institutions to function smoothly.”
The girls at PU pay Rs 6,000 per semester as hostel fee. However, their canteen and mess bills are charged on a monthly basis on which they end up spending Rs 4,000. Each meal costs between Rs 35 and Rs 40, and students are charged for 15 meals on a compulsory basis whether you eat them or not.
There is no transparent hostel allotment and every year, Nihal says, the demand is only increasing. “We need more hostels and updated infrastructure. But this is comfortable enough for us. The food is also the best in hostel 3.”