| A government-run working women hostel in Bhubaneswar. Telegraph picture |
Bhubaneswar, May 5: The greenery and cleanliness of the Temple City left 24-year-old Radhika from Chennai speechless, when she first stepped into the city. Little did she know that the capital city would make it tough for her to find even a decent accommodation, forcing her to think of leaving the place in only a few months.
With an increase in the number of educational institutes, coaching centres and job opportunities, the influx of women from other states and districts is higher than ever. Taking advantage of this situation are shrewd traders, who have deftly spread the private hostel business far and wide in the city, keeping the accommodation fees low to lure the parents.
The private hostels come cheap, at a monthly rate of less than Rs 2,000. This makes them a first choice for any girl looking for a hostel here.
Since convenience and safety are their priorities, hundreds of female employees from outside the city chose to reside in private hostels nearest to their workplace. But, the sad state of hostels leaves most of them horrified. Each shabby room offers accommodation to four to six residents, who get a bed each. While some have layers of algae on the walls, most rooms do not have walls at all and some hostel owners even make rooms out of hardboard partition.
Unhygienic washrooms with leaking water from broken taps and foul stench supplemented with no proper meal provisions make these mushrooming private hostels a painful stay for working women, who have no other option to live in Bhubaneswar. College students from different cities and states also face the same problems, thanks to lack of facilities on part of the government.
Most of these unregistered private hostels that come up in the basements of a family residence or their rooftops lack some of the essential amenities such as a fire extinguisher, fire escape, medical kit or even a watchman.
“We have to cook ourselves and one of my hostel mates accidentally burned her hand. We immediately rushed to our hostel warden for a medical kit. But the hostel didn’t have one. We had to rush her to the medical store, which was a half-hour ride away. I think the hostel authorities are quite negligent about safety,” said Itishree, who stays in a Shastri Nagar hostel.
Adding to the long list of miseries are the rampant complaints of theft and assaults. Unit-III, where every third house is a women’s hostel, is a haven for eve-teasers and molesters in the city. With most of the eve-teasing episodes failing to reach the complaint diary of the police stations, the area can very easily be listed as the “most risky area” for females in town.
“Maximum girls in our hostel have been a victim of both assault and theft. Mobile phone snatching or a lewd remark in the street has become quite regular. Our repeated complaints to the owner of the hostel have remained unattended. Nowadays, most of us carry pepper-spray with us for our safety,” said college student Shruti.
Sneaking in and out of these hostels is comparatively easy too. This is the way some hostellers prefer it, but others consider it dangerous.
“There are no security guards at our hostel which is a working women’s hostel. Anybody can come in and leave at any time. There have been instances when young boys posing as brothers of a hosteller has managed to sneak into the hostel rooms. Living in hostels of this kind is a risky proposition, but we have no better or cheaper option,” said Mrinalini, who stays in a Bapuji Nagar hostel.
“We are forced to cook as the hostel provides no meal facilities, and it is a risky business. The hostel is loaded with wooden furniture and if ever the hostel catches fire, we have no routes for escape,” said Pinky, a corporate employee residing in one of the hostels near Sriya Square.
The state government has only two women’s hostel in the city — one behind the secretariat and one at Mancheswar. But, these hostels are never vacant and one has to wait for at least six months to get into the 12-bed dormitories and more than a year to live in the luxury of a double or single-seater.
“There is a huge rush for women’s government hostels and with just 50 seats in the hostels, it becomes a little difficult to accommodate all applicants at one go. At times, one might have to wait for about six months to get a room,” said Premalata Ram, in charge of a government hostel.