Since last year, a student-led movement that started in Delhi has taken Indian universities by storm. The collective called Pinjra Tod, started as a response to discriminatory hostel rules for women in Jamia Milia Islamia and soon expanded their agitation against many other universities where women face strict and often arbitrary rules that their male counterparts do not.

It turns out, as their research shows, that women get a raw deal in another area: hostel charges.

Women in Delhi University pay on average about Rs 36,000 extra every year for hostels in the university as compared to men, the collective has said in its report, which was submitted to the Delhi Commission for Women last year.

The study surveyed 25 hostels across the university for both undergraduate and postgraduate students and concluded that women usually end up paying a lot more than men – and at unfavourable terms.

For instance, the study found that women at undergraduate level pay around Rs 3,000 more than men in hostel charges each month, while those in postgraduate hostels pay around Rs 2,500 extra. Women hostellers claim that extra charge for hostels is unjustified and that the matter is never discussed with students before deciding upon the amount, which often is “arbitrary and unacceptable”.

“The universities should enable women to study instead of making it more difficult for them by making hostels expensive and out of their reach which could be a disincentive for many,” said Avipsha Das, a Pinjra Tod member and an MPhil student at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University. “When I was in Delhi University’s Miranda House College, the hostel got us new curtains and furniture after the commonwealth games and our fee was hiked from Rs 16,000 a year to about Rs 33,000.”

The study surveyed only major hostels in the city which are supposed to run on no-profit, no-loss basis but are free from intervention from the college or university authorities. A senior Delhi University official told the Hindustan Times that there is no discrimination since the charges differ on the basis of facilities provided by the hostels, and it’s the governing body that decides upon different issues pertaining to hostels.

Pinjra Tod's Das, however, said that the the amount of fee and facilities to be provided are decided by hostel bodies among themselves without taking women's needs into account and the governing body meetings are only convened to convey the information. She added that the infrastructure argument doesn’t hold either, since crucial facilities are still missing.

“They say that extra fee is for infrastructure that they are providing us, but higher walls and cameras is not infrastructure,” she said. “We don’t even have proper reading rooms inside our hostels. They throw us out of hostels every vacation in the name of whitewashing! And then the white wash happens only when we get back to hostels.”

The report concludes with suggestions that the hostels should “provide a clear breakup of the components of hostel fees, with a minimal infrastructural rent and maintenance cost" apart from "the cost of food, electricity and water” and allow students to pay hostel fee on a monthly basis rather than yearly or semester-wise.