New Delhi: Students living in hostels at central universities across India, from Delhi University to Aligarh Muslim University, are wary of going back to their hometowns despite the resumption of trains and buses for stranded people.
Lack of social distancing inside public transport, the potential risk of exposing their families to the coronavirus, and the prospect of institutional quarantine are the primary fears holding them back.
Some students, who have been advised by institutions to vacate hostels but are scared of travelling amid the Covid-19 pandemic, have even taken shelter at the homes of their friends and acquaintances.
Several central universities have reportedly asked students to vacate hostels. While Banaras Hindu University and Jawaharlal Nehru University sent advisories in this regard before the lockdown kicked in, Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia reportedly did so this month, as the central government started special trains to get migrant workers, tourists and students home.
States have, however, also been individually arranging buses since April to bring back students.
Beginning earlier this month, the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) started arranging buses for its students to go back home even as it insisted that they had the choice to stay back. Over 1,000 students have already been taken home within Uttar Pradesh and in Bihar.
One such student taken back to Saharanpur, UP, said they were lodged at a quarantine centre with “abysmal facilities” upon their return.
“We were kept in a rough structure with a tin shed, for several hours. After we complained incessantly, they asked for our guardians to come and pick us up,” the student said.
A student still at the hostel said they were worried about leaving for precisely the same reason but the administration has put their mind at ease.
“I was really worried that I will also be kept in a quarantine facility if I left, but now that the university has assured us that we will only be required to home-quarantine ourselves… I feel better,” Kaunain Raza, a 12th grade student staying at AMU’s Allama Iqbal Hostel, said.
According to a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) directive issued last week, stranded individuals brought back to their hometowns have to be subject to a health check-up.
“On arrival at their destination, they would be assessed by the local health authorities, and kept in home quarantine, unless the assessment requires keeping a person in institutional quarantine,” the MHA had said in its directive, adding that they would be kept under a watch.
The assurance of the administration is based on the medical certificates they are issuing to students before sending them home.
“We are thermally scanning students who wish to leave, and giving them a medical certificate so they aren’t kept in quarantine facilities,” Shafey Kidwai, the AMU public relations officer, told ThePrint.
Students of Jamia Millia Islamia, too, were asked to vacate their hostels earlier this month.
In a notice issued 1 May, the university said the hostels are to be vacated “completely with no exceptions”.
But students refused to leave, citing reasons ranging from fear of being sent into quarantine, to not being able to study without hurdles back home.
“Many people come here from rural areas where there are no WiFi facilities. Everyone wants to stay back and prepare for future exams,” a student residing in Jamia’s old residents girls’ hostel said.
JNU, BHU warned students in March
JNU cancelled all its classes and workshops on 16 March — over a week before the nationwide lockdown kicked in 25 March — and “strongly advised” all students to go home. There has been no such order from the university since.
However, multiple students of the university told ThePrint that even if JNU were to arrange buses for them, they would rather not leave.
“I have absolutely no interest in leaving for home. I will be kept in a quarantine facility — I don’t know for how long and in what condition,” Abhinav, a PhD student from Uttar Pradesh’s Basti district, said.
“The situation has only gotten worse since March. Travelling in public transport could expose me to the virus. Then I would go home and make my family vulnerable, which isn’t fair,” the 24-year-old student, who resides at JNU’s Kaveri hostel, added.
Students also worry that social distancing — guidelines that advise a distance of at least one metre between two people amid the pandemic, to mitigate the scope of transmission — will be a challenge in these buses, especially for those with special abilities.
“Visually-impaired people often have to take help from others, we find it difficult to navigate crowded spaces. There should be some sort of a provision made for people like me,” said Shashi Bhushan, a visually-impaired student at JNU’s History department.
Banaras Hindu University (BHU) had also asked its students to leave the hostel premises around 15 March, but it was again an advisory. While many students who had no classes or assignments to attend left immediately, some others, mostly PhD students, stayed back. The university is now providing rations and other supplies to those who are still on the campus.
“My friends and I are among the few students who have stayed back in hostels,” said Raj Abhishek, a student from Bihar. “We prefer staying here as long as the situation does not normalise because going back in trains and buses is an even bigger risk. If we travel now, we will be quarantined when we reach our home state. Taking all this trouble makes no sense when we are managing fine in the hostel.”
DU students allege they were ‘denied entry’ to hostels
It’s the same story with outstation students of Delhi University. Akhilesh Kumar Yadav, a geology student in DU who lives at the Gwyer Hall men’s hostel, said, “I do not want to go back home because the facilities I am getting here in the hostel are good. Also, once I reach home, I will have to be quarantined for 14 days and who knows what kind of facilities the quarantine centres will provide. It is just better to stay put where we are.
“Some of my friends who are not in hostels and have been staying with their friends also want to stay put because they are not sure of the facilities, or the potential for social distancing in trains,” he added.
Many students claim they were denied entry into hostels and are living at their friends’ houses as a result.
“I am from Kanpur and I could not go back home before the lockdown began and now I am stuck here till August because classes will start only then,” said Nirmalya Awasthi, a BSc student who has been staying with his friends since he was allegedly denied entry in the absence of a medical certificate.
“My family members have been coercing me to come back home. Now that the trains have started, they want me to try and be back home.”
Calls and messages to Delhi University Vice-Chancellor Yogesh Tyagi for clarifications on allegations that students were denied entry into hostels went unanswered. However, a senior official in the administration, denied the charge.
“Students are not being denied entry into hostels, they are just being asked to produce a certificate that says they are not infected with coronavirus. If they get that, they can stay in hostels,” the official said. “This is a protocol that we need to follow for the safety of other students.”