IITK: Home no more?

A great turmoil has been felt in the washerman community residing in the campus since the last week. The Estate Office, IIT Kanpur drafted an order that mandated the vacating of the Dhobi Ghat by the end of April. In response to this, the washermen are seeking the support of the campus community. They displayed the order and also a letter addressed to the students and the other campus denizens which translates to the following :

On 28th March, we received a notice of eviction from the estate officer (Manoj Kumar) to vacate our houses within 30 days. The notice says that since the leases for our residences were in the name of our fathers who have since passed away, those leases are now invalid, and hence we are living here illegally. Newspaper reports have even been released which claim that we are living here illegally, do not perform the washing duties we are supposed to and indulge in criminal activities like peddling drugs. We are extremely hurt and confused by these false allegations. None of us has ever given any customer any cause for complaint, both in terms of service and integrity. We all pay our bills punctually and regularly – be it the rent, water bills or electricity bills. Our families have been living here since Director Kelkar’s time, and many of us know no other profession except for this. In fact, rather than the regular dhobis not doing the work they are supposed to, most of us even have our wives and children helping us with work. If we are forcibly removed from this institute, most of us will be unable to support ourselves and our families, especially those over the age of 45. We have heard that the reason for the eviction is that the institute wants to build a new hall or guest house on our land. We have no problems with this; however, all we humbly ask for is that we are relocated to some other place in the institute so that our livelihoods are saved and we can continue to provide the services we have been for generations. There is more than enough land available for this, and it would not cost much either. Hence, we have written an application to the director with this request, and are requesting the signatures of the students and faculty who avail our services for support. This is not the first time we have been threatened like this. The last time this happened, it was only with the students’ and the faculty’s help that we were able to get justice. They convinced the administration that we perform an irreplaceable service, and hence we should not be evicted in this inhuman way. We hope the campus community will support us again as they consistently have in the past.

A copy of the first page of the letter

A copy of the first page of the letter

This is not the first time that their residential rights in the campus have been questioned. The last time this happened they managed to extend their stay with help of the students, faculty members and rest of the community.

What is the matter?

In its early days, IIT Kanpur opened a lot of new job opportunities as the residents needed access to basic services and amenities so far away from the city. As a result, a few people were given the permit to start their business as washermen. These people were also provided with some small residential quarters. Now more than 50 years later, only a few, if any, of them, are around. This means that their successors who are continuing with the business have not been given any permission for the same which implies that they are exercising an illegal stay in the campus.

This, however, doesn’t seem to be the only problem. According to the concerned authorities, these washermen are also expanding their businesses to places outside of the campus. This, according to them, goes against the ethics of work. The administration refrained from taking any actions, up until now, as the number of people requiring their services has come down or will come down owing to the installation of washing machines for the general use.

The other reason for the action is the need of another hostel to relieve the space crunch. The ever-increasing number of PhD students and research engineers and a prospect of a remarkable increase in the number of girls had made an immediate action quite imperative.

All these factors led to the eviction order that came out in the last week of March and gave the washermen a time of one month to evict the premises so that it can be cleared and a new residential hall can be built instead.

“Understanding that there are families living in that area and it will be tough to find another place all by themselves, the campus administration has discussed it with the city administration to help find a shelter for all these families, and is also willing to provide any kind of help they would therefore need”, said Prof Manindra Agrawal. “We plan to employ a few of them to continue their service for students who prefer washerman over washing machines. They will be allowed to live in the halls,” he added.

The campus community needs to come forward to help find further solutions to this problem which are acceptable to everyone alike and is in the welfare of this institute as a whole.The washermen will be gathering on 4th April, at 5:30 PM in the Ramleela ground to discuss the issue with the rest of the community. It’s time we make our contribution in solving the problems of our community and help it reach new heights and set new examples like it always has.

Written by Shashank Gupta, Aditya Jain, Karan Jha and Anmol Chaman