Published: 24th April 2021
As COVID cases surge, research scholars in Pondicherry University contemplate the long road home once again
The PU Students' Council has also come in support of the students, asking the Vice-Chancellor to keep the hostel and student-run messes open, following COVID protocols
There were years when students and researchers craved that time of the year when the semester came to an end. They would rush to board the next available train, bus or airplane to head home — only to come back to their universities a few weeks later. This was probably the case in India until 2019.
Arun* remembers March 2020, when he had to pack his bags in a jiffy and vacate his hostel room in Pondicherry University to go to his house in Kerala after the country went into lockdown owing to COVID. The pandemic stretched on and it was a long time before he, along with the other researchers, were able to return to campus in October.
However, there was a strange sense of déjà vu for the researchers, when they received a circular from the university administration on Tuesday, asking them to vacate their hostels by April 25, as the second wave of COVID continues to ravage the country. The university hasn't decided when it will reopen the campus next.
The researchers now say that the university's move has put them in a fix and will negatively affect the quality of their research. "Last year when I left, I did not take most of my books and belongings. None of us anticipated this long stay at home. This affected my research a lot. Many journals were in the hostel and a lot of the online journals were accessible from the university library," he says. He is now contemplating what to do, considering his home state Kerala has asked the people coming into the state to produce a negative RT PCR test.
The distance that Arun has to travel may only be a few hundred kilometres, but his fellow resident Anup*, who hails from Kota in Rajasthan, has to travel nearly 2,000 kilometres to get home. "I either have to halt at Mumbai or in Delhi in order to get home. Both cities are grappling with a very high number of COVID cases. But here, I am safe. The university has enough hostel rooms for people to stay distancing each other," he says.
Anup says that going back home last year was a mistake. "I should have stayed back in Puducherry, near the university. The lack of proper internet connection has affected my research a lot," he says while packing his bags. He isn't sure if he will go back home this time.
The PU Students' Council has also come out in support of the students. In a letter to the Vice-Chancellor, it said, "It is extremely difficult for scholars to make the transit home due to testing requirements, locked state borders, lack of travel options, and the incredible risk posed by the rise in COVID-19 cases in their hometowns," it says. The council also asked the Vice-Chancellor to keep the hostel and student-run messes open, following COVID protocols.
*Names changed on request