Earlier this year, in the first week of October, Praveen Kumar Singh, an alumnus of Delhi University (DU) and a resident of the nearby Christian Colony near Patel Chest in north campus, went on a week-long hunger strike. Singh was protesting the unregulated rent hikes in neighbourhoods around the campus. This was not Singh’s first hunger strike. Over the past year, he has been conducting regular protests and strikes against the lack of a standardised rent system for off-campus accommodations for DU students. The strike he organised last month was a response to an unexplained twofold rise in rent, a practice that Singh said has been going unchecked for years.
Singh’s campaign began in October last year, spurred on by a sudden and unexpected increase in rents in Christian Colony. He went on a weeklong hunger strike then—his first. In November, when nothing changed, Singh led several students in conducting a rent boycott. “We just refused to pay,” he told me.
After the boycott, Singh said, he was booked on charges of assault. Singh said that the Assistant Commissioner of Police at the Civil Lines station tried to mediate with the students, but it didn’t work. “The landlord’s wives then falsely accused us of eve-teasing,” he told me, “The threat of a charge sheet was like an impending doom.” Eventually, Singh said he was charged with assault for allegedly beating up the landlords, who also alleged that he had been living in the flat illegally. He told me that after making several trips to court, he was let off only after agreeing to sign a peace bond—an agreement that he would maintain peace and not protest.
In June this year, along with some other student residents, Singh started a movement called “Right to Accommodation.” Through this movement, he is demanding the proper implementation of the Delhi Rent Act of 1995 to regulate rents in PGs (a paying guest accommodation) and rented apartments, along with 24-hour access to libraries and the establishment of a “no-profit, no-loss” canteen. A similar initiative that has garnered attention recently is Pinjra Tod—Break the Cage, an independent movement consisting of women students from DU, Jamia Millia Islamia, Ambedkar University, National Law University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. The movement’s central opposition is to the arbitrary rules and restrictions that female students are subjected to, both in hostels and off-campus housing.
The lack of standardised housing for DU students is a problem that has plagued the university for several years now. Section 33 of the University of Delhi Act, which governs the functioning of the university, pertaining to residences, states that, “Every student of the University (other than a student who pursues a course of study by correspondence) shall reside in a College [or] a Hall.” Ordinance XV: Residence, Health and Discipline Board, section 5, further states that “Every student of the University shall live either: (a) in a College of which he is a member, or (b) with a parent or some person accepted by his College to be his guardian, or (c) in the case of a woman student, with a parent or some person accepted by the Proctor to be her guardian.”