No security, unhygienic conditions: Stories of horror from Chennai women's hostels

The Chennai District Collector is cracking down on unlicensed hostels in the city and ordering for their immediate registration.
No security, unhygienic conditions: Stories of horror from Chennai women's hostels
No security, unhygienic conditions: Stories of horror from Chennai women's hostels
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The Chennai district administration has begun a crackdown on women’s hostels in the city, following several complaints that they were operating without licenses and threatening the security of young women and students who rely on these accommodations. In a press release on Monday, the District Collector wrote, “For the welfare of women and their safety, women’s hostels in Chennai are to be registered within a month’s time.”

The administration has stated that unregistered hostels will be liable to criminal action under the Tamil Nadu Hostels and Homes for Women and Children (Regulation) Act, 2014. According to its rules, “Any person who fails to obtain a licence... shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to two years and with fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees.”

While the crackdown on unlicensed hostels is a welcome move, the district administration may do well to be aware that even those hostels that do run a registered business do not comply by the rules laid down by the 2014 Act. While the Act does provide for regular probes by the district authorities, there have been no reports indicating that these checks are in place and functioning.

These hostels primarily cater to working women and college students in the city from other districts and states. However, even in registered hostels, rules laid down by the Act are seldom followed. For example, the manager, resident manager and security personnel of a hostel, lodging house and home for women must be provided with identity cards with photographs. The parent or lawful guardian of the women residing in the hostels also need to be provided with identity cards. In addition to reporting untoward incidents to the jurisdictional police, hostel managers are required to file reports to the district collector.

Speaking to TNM, Sharmila Ashraf, a Chennai-based auditor points out that apart from the traditional hostel, many informal systems of accomodation exist for women in the city. Recounting her personal experience, she says that while both the hostels she stayed in were registered, her experience with a PG accomodation was less than ideal.

She says, “I saw a post on a Facebook page called Flats and Flatmates Chennai Chapter. The PG was in Nelson Manickam Road. It was basically run by another girl. She had taken the apartment on rent. She used to sublet it to other girls. She was in one room and two girls would be in the other room. But it was a PG, available for three-six months.”

This unofficial business meant that safety for Sharmila and her roommate was severely compromised.

“It was not a registered PG. Even the house owner was not aware of this arrangement. The Facebook advertisement was under a fake name. We tried contacting the house-owner but we couldn’t. There would be parties in the living room with boys, without informing us. There were too many spare keys. My roommate arrived early one day and there were two boys already inside and they had house keys. We paid three months’ deposit when we joined but we were given only one month’s in return when we left,” she narrates.

Speaking to TNM, Meera, a school teacher, says that her hostel, run by a church in Chennai’s Royapettah came recommended by the college she studied in.

“I’m not sure if it was registered. The church in which the hostel is located is registered. There were no safety measures. It was close to college so that was my parents’ main consideration. I have not seen even a fire extinguisher or a CCTV camera anywhere,” she says.

According to the 2014 Act, round the clock security is mandatory. In hostels, lodging houses or homes with over fifty inmates, closed circuit television or digital video recorder need to be installed at every entry and exit point.

Speaking to TNM, Nithya, a city-based banker says that she was recently forced to move out of her hostel after the city corporation stopped supplying water to the building. Having stayed at a popular working-women’s hostel in Karapakkam with many branches across the city, Nithya says that no rules were followed.

“My parents’ main consideration was that the hostel was on the main road. The whole place was totally unhygienic. From the appliances to the food, it would be very dirty.  If we asked questions, we would be berated by the warden,” she says.

According to the 2014 Act, managers of hostels are expected to immediately notify the Health Inspector of the area as soon as a person in the premises contracts an infectious disease.

Almost laughing at the suggestion, Nithya says, “We were five of us staying in a small room. There was not even a basic first aid kit. When a fellow hosteller contracted an infection and fell ill during the holidays, we had to take care of her.”

Even as these women relive horrid experiences from unregistered institutions where young women continue to be at risk, one hopes that the Chennai district administration is taking notes.

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