One Washroom For 85 Hostel Girls : A Sad Story

Girls in uniform alight from a jam-packed auto, one after another. The group comprises of shy little girls timidly adjusting their dupattas that have fallen off in hurry and also some-grown up young ladies with their scarves tightly-secured overhead. One of them pays the fare and then they walk in unison and knock at an iron gate. The gate opens and they enter their residential Gujjar and Bakarwal Girls Hostel that runs in a rented Nari-Niketan building, five kilometers away from the main town of Poonch. This regular ordeal is not the only problem they face.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir has 24 such hostels, meant for the children of Gujjar and Bakarwal community. Of them, 18 hostels are for boys while six hostels accommodate girl students.  These hostels were started to provide a learning-atmosphere to the meritorious children of tribals, who otherwise have little access to formal school education. The merit for selection is determined through an entrance test, in which only the students from BPL families can appear. The hope for bright future draws thousands of applications but the lucky who get through have more hardships awaiting them. 

Gujjar and Bakarwal Girls Hostel was started in the year 2012 and in absence of its own building, it changed places. Eventually, it got shifted to its present location in the year 2014 on a rental basis. The building is fenced by low walls, fallen at at-least two points. Concertina wires try to check any intruders at the wall-less points even as the walls are too low to check any trespassing. There are a total of 7 rooms occupied by 85 boarders. At the top of that, there is only one bathroom that is shared by the boarders and the staff of the hostel. The dining hall has no chairs and is too small for all boarders to have meals at the same time. The building is also devoid of any common room or study room. There is no medical facility available too. 

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Farzana Akhter, a ferocious debater and a student of class 12th rues that until two years ago; they had to fetch drinking water from a spring nearby and also clean the hostel themselves. ‘That’s what we did back at homes too’, her concern sounds obvious. After repeated requests and nudging by the present Warden, the hostel got a water-connection and a sweeper on temporary basis. The warden, Mrs. Kaniza Bi, is on deputation basis. She has no DDO power in absence of which she cannot bring the positive changes that she dreams of. All powers including financial ones lie with the Warden Gujjar and Bakarwal Boys Hostel. The whole intention of women empowerment seems failing here. 

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Last year, the government enhanced the intake capacity of G&B hostels. And in addition, converted all the hostels to residential schools. Even though it is intended for a good cause, it further added to the woes. There is no infrastructure for classes, no laboratories for practical classes, no staffroom for teachers. The only library in the hostel comprises of two almirahs stacked with few books that too have to be squeezed in Warden’s room for there is no possible separate space for them.
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‘I had a difficult time inculcating reading habits among boarders for they always hesitated to come to my room for books but it was worth it’ the Warden says. Newspapers have been made available and to evaluate the knowledge-base, quizzes on current affairs are a regular practice now.  Two boarders namely Asma Choudhary from Jhulas and Zafra Khanum from Naka Manjhati topped a district-level quiz on Social Sciences, one of the first feats for the tribal boarders. Parvez Akhter from Shahpur and Aabida Shakir from Marhote, added more feather in the hostel’s cap by securing the first position in their school’s Mathematics quiz competition.

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The hostel did not have any sports equipments until recently . But it did not lower the morales of Yasmeen Akhter from Kallar Mohra, who played nationals in football. It was once a month back that DC Poonch donated some sports material to the boarders. The boarders now also represent their culture in Republic Day and Independence Day post-parade celebrations. ‘I feel empowered when I present a Gojri folksong while doning the traditional cap amid thousands of people’ one of them says. Some of the boarders won a first prize in skit-competition organized in Kala Mahotsav Bhopal. ‘The best part was to speak our mother-tongue on stage’, one voice chips in.

The Warden did not receive her salary for nine months but that does not deter her to create a studying atmosphere in the hostel, despite many infrastructural hurdles. She hopes that things would better once the hostel shifts to its permanent building at Banpat village, which is expected in a few days. But she is not very optimistic for the new building has windows without iron-grills. The new building is not fenced. There are no classrooms for in-house classes and no quarter for Warden. The innumerable letters to the administration have yielded nothing to ease her concerns.

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The jam-packed autos will continue to ferry the boarders. The hostel does not have a bus to ferry them to and fro their schools. Neither from Magnar. Nor from Banpat.  Hope, however, remains of this written-piece finds ears of concerned officials. Positive steps and initiatives will play a contributory role in enhancing the caliber of tribal students.

Report is prepared by Prof Tazeem Akhter

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