About 20 kilometres from the nearest Delhi metro station lies a piece of land that should have been a women’s college under Delhi University’s Swami Shraddhanand College.
The land, measuring 93 bigha or 37 acres, is in Mamurpur village in Narela. It’s dense with trees. Portions of it are used as a dumping ground and as a vast playground for monkeys. It’s been this way since 1978, when it was given by the panchayat, led at the time by the pradhan, Sunder Lal Khatri, for the construction of a women’s college. However, nothing has materialised.
The land came into the public spotlight in December 2019, with Hans Raj Hans, the MP of North West Delhi, questioning the Minister of Human Resource Development, Ramesh Pokhriyal, about it in the Lok Sabha. He had asked whether the government has any proposal from the institution. Pokhriyal replied in the negative.
The pradhan, Sunder Lal Khatri, is dead, but his son Raj says they’ve been approaching successive governments to build the college, with no success. “The panchayat and villagers had decided together that they would give their land for this. When Tejendra Khanna was LG, we went to him many times and he was helpful. There was even a talk of a SAARC college so he asked me to take the chief engineer and DDA’s vice chairman to show that land. But the then CM Sheila Dikshit wanted it in South Delhi so instead they took the land in Maidan Garhi.”
Raj says he also tried to get a metro line built on the land. “Neither the metro nor the college has been built and now it’s just lying like that,” he says. “The forest department had even taken over the land so we took them to court. We won the case at Tis Hazari and got the land back for the college in about 2005.”
Sounding hopeless, he adds, “I would write all the time to the government of India, to the Delhi government, that there should be a college for women. The last time I wrote to the Delhi government was four years back. But now, what to do…”
Jai Singh Shuhag, president of the residents’ welfare association of Sri Ram Colony.
This reporter spoke to Jai Singh Shuhag, the president of the residents’ welfare association of Sri Ram Colony, which is located opposite the piece of land. He says there was a time about three years back when a professor from Shraddhanand College came calling. “He said the college wanted to build a Jagannath temple with the college which would soon be built here. He wanted land close by so we can have an education institution and a temple next to it.” After showing him around, Shuhag didn’t see him again.
Nothing has happened, he says, and with the panchayat system now dissolved, he believes the college is not accountable to anyone. “Who will ask the college what they have done with the land we gave them?”
He says he knows who is to blame. “It is because the government which doesn’t want to make it.” He alleges that it is the fault of the Delhi government, led by the Aam Aadmi Party, even though they have been in power for five years out of the land’s 42-year history of abandonment.
In its poll promises, the AAP had said it would open at least 20 colleges. This promise could not be kept, the party later said, as Delhi University falls under the jurisdiction of the central government, led by the BJP.
Raj doesn’t think this excuse is good enough. “They can at least speak to the Centre to build the college, they can put some effort in.”
Shuhag is not convinced that the AAP government isn’t to blame, but says it must be a priority for the government. “It would have been so good for the girls of this township if the college had been this close.” Instead, he says, keeping in mind the safety aspects, and the lack of transport, parents “have to drop and pick their daughters up”.
The closest women-only college is in Bawana, about 10 km from Mamurpur: the Aditi Mahavidyalaya that is fully funded by the Delhi government. While the literacy rate of Narela Taluk is 70.36 percent, according to the 2011 Census, the male literacy rate stood at 75.9 percent whereas the female literacy rate was only 63.78 percent.
But even so, the patriarch of a family that lives near this barren land believes women have progressed a lot since his time. Satyavir Khatri himself studied in the Shraddhanand College and says co-education isn’t a problem. “Look at women, they are all making noises these days about their power,” he laughs, sitting on a plastic chair, soaking up the invisible sun on a gloomy winter’s day.
Satyavir Khatri, a resident of the area.
When asked if women have been at a disadvantage since the college has not been built yet, he says, “Girls are doing very well, they have left boys behind. It’s because unlike boys, they focus on their studies, while boys will get into all sort of bad habits.” He continues: “My own girls have studied and are now grown up and married. But yes, if the college were built it would help this area become better.” And by better, he means get a metro line, “which we really need”.
The closest metro station to this village is Samaypur Badli, but for onward transport availability, a passenger needs to get off at Jahangirpuri. “Travelling from one place to another is very difficult here”, Satyavir says.
For now, the residents just gaze at the forest that could have been a place for learning.
This article was first published in Patriot.