Lindsay Pereira: Students need not apply
If you're thinking of moving to Mumbai as a student, be prepared for a lot of stress and no support from the government
When was the last time you took a trip to any of the hostels managed by the University of Mumbai? I didn't live in any of them, luckily, because I had the luxury of being born and raised in the city, but passed through many of those dismal rooms across the state on a few occasions. The only thing those experiences left me with was a bad taste in my mouth, along with sympathy for students from other cities who had no choice, but to live in appalling conditions in order to get a degree.
A week ago, reports of problems with accommodation at a boys' hostel appeared in a number of papers. They didn't cause a stir, obviously, because the welfare of students is low on the priority list of people who have bigger problems related to commuting, water scarcity and corruption to tackle on a daily basis. The reports mentioned how outstation students coming in for higher studies won't be able to stay in the hostel that used to accommodate 150 students because scheduled repairs to the building haven't taken place. Apparently, the repairs were necessary because the hostel was in a dismal condition. If you haven't visited the University of Mumbai lately, it must be said that dismal is more the norm than the exception, alongside peeling paint, paan-stained walls and unhelpful employees. It isn't the kind of place that encourages academia at the best of times, let alone when one is a student from another place trying to make sense of a new course in a new city. Reports add that the hostels were in such bad shape that there was a constant threat of fire and short circuits. Open electric wires in the corridors posed a serious threat to students, along with falling portions of walls and ceilings. Young men continued to live there though, because accommodation in Mumbai is no longer possible unless you are rich, corrupt or a politician.
How long does it take to repair a building? This is a city where a few floors can spring up illegally within weeks, but also where anything that falls under the purview of the government can mysteriously take decades. In this case, the hostel was reportedly vacated in June 2017 on the assurance that it would be completely repaired and ready to use before the next academic year. Naturally, this meant the University couldn't accept applications for hostel accommodation from students last year. The academic year has begun and no one from the University knows when the building will be ready for students again. It could take another year, or another four, because that's how efficient that organisation is.
This isn't just about students at the University though. Young people from across India come to Mumbai daily for all kinds of reasons. Some do it for short diplomas, others for internships, still others for jobs that give them hope of a better life than the one they leave behind. Think of how unprepared those young people are when they step off the train, bus or airplane and confront the nightmare of housing in our city, if they aren't well off. Think of how they must raise the requisite funds for holes in the wall, deal with landlords who blatantly exploit them, or homeowners who refuse to give them room because we have all kinds of biases against single men, single women, religious beliefs and eating habits.
We are supposedly a Smart City, or aspiring to be one. Out government is supposedly trying to make it easier for businessmen to do business here, and vehicles to cut across faster. There are infrastructure projects that will supposedly make our lives easier over the next decade or two, at least on paper. Nothing is ever done about housing though, especially for those too poor to afford it. We ignore students regularly, dismissing their problems as insignificant, brushing them off in our haste to ban another Bollywood film. In the process, we seem to have forgotten that we were all students once. The truly smart thing for any government to do is try and attract more students here, not dissuade them from turning up. And if you refuse accommodation to a young person for any of the reasons listed above, you are part of the problem. You are complicit.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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