By Venkataraman Ganesh
Also read this January 2017 Op-Ed by a research scholar about the accommodation shortage in the institute.
The issue: A number of research scholars are protesting against the administration’s decision to ask some of the scholars who have not finished their M.S and Ph.D. within the stipend period (viz. 3 years and 5 years respectively) to move into shared hostel rooms (2 scholars per single room) for the remainder of their programs.
The peaceful protest, and events leading to It: The first inkling of such a step being taken came in the middle of September 2016, when the then Research Affairs Secretary (RAS), Srikanth Kotra, sent a mail to the M.S and Ph.D. scholars to this effect. At that time and for the following two semesters, the implementation of the policy was stayed after repeated meetings between the scholars and the administration. However, starting October 2017, select scholars started receiving emails in batches intimating them that they may have to share rooms when asked to, and in the end, 183 male and 41 female scholars were asked to share their rooms starting 13th of January 2018. Needless to say, this caused a great deal of discontent among the research scholars, and with repeated requests to withdraw the policy having failed, the scholars resorted to protesting peacefully outside the Administration Block on the 8th of January 2018. The protest was withdrawn following an assurance from the Director, Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi, that he will meet the research scholars at 8 P.M the same day, and pursuant to this, a town-hall meeting was organized at the Central Lecture Theatre.
The town hall meeting, January 8th: The town-hall meeting opened to a packed CLT and saw the Director fielding questions from the attending research scholars. The Director clarified that the policy did not mean that all the scholars who had stopped receiving stipend would be asked to share rooms; as far as possible, the administration was trying to ensure that the scholars had single rooms, but given that the institute is facing a severe shortage of hostel rooms, there was no choice but to ask some scholars to share rooms. Furthermore, the list of scholars who had to share rooms was prepared on the basis of seniority, with the rationale being that they had received the benefit of a single room for the largest amount of time. The Director pointed out to the scholars that they were the last group of students in the institute who had been asked to share rooms: all others were sharing rooms for anywhere between 20% to 50% of their course duration. He further added that the administration was trying to ensure that the least number of scholars were affected for the least possible time by this policy – as long as rooms were available, no scholar would be asked to share rooms.
Research scholars, on the other hand, pointed out that it would be difficult for them to adjust to sharing rooms at the very end of their time in the institute. Many of the scholars were already under tremendous pressure to finish and leave the institute, especially given that they were not receiving a stipend, and this policy was sure to increase their stress levels. Some of the scholars asked that instead of asking the senior-most scholars to share, first-year scholars can be asked to do the same, the rationale being that first-year scholars could adapt and adjust far easier than those who had already been used to a single room for a long time. However, this failed to convince the Director, who stated that doing so would mean that more rooms than what was required would be empty unnecessarily. Furthermore, first-year scholars needed space to prepare for their Comprehensive Viva and course-work, and the Director felt that asking them to share rooms would not be appropriate.
Town hall meeting conclusion: In the end, the town-hall failed to appease the scholars: the Director categorically stated that the policy would be implemented the moment it became impossible for the administration to manage with the existing number of rooms and refused to revoke the policy. However, given that Mandakini Hostel is not due to be demolished for a few more months, the Director asked the scholars who were served notice to continue staying in their rooms till further instructions were mailed to them by the Administration. The scholars will be staging a peaceful protest near Gajendra Circle, DoSt office and admin block for the duration of Saarang, and have begun a Facebook group to build awareness of the issue.
The accommodation shortage that the Institute is facing seems to be serious. When asked about the same, Ashwanth Monian, the Hostel Affairs Secretary, showed us some relevant statistics; from the data, it seemed that at the current rate of intake, IIT Madras does not have enough rooms to accommodate the students who would be joining the next academic year. This being the case, similar policies may have to be implemented for a wider range of students, at least until tower hostels are constructed in place of Mandakini and Sarayu hostels. The writing on the wall is clear: single rooms are becoming a privilege, and not the norm.