Ninety-percent of Students Surveyed Express Concerns with SR Closure
By Anoushka Singh & Vidhi Bhutra
TW: Mentions of SH
[The area near Gate No.1 was demarcated as a smoking room ever since Ashoka opened its campus to students. However, the last year has brought about its closure, which has led to a few negative spillovers.]
In a recent survey by The Edict, out of 158 respondents, over 80% stated that they were frequent visitors of the SR and 41% said that they visited it every day. However, on the 26th of March, 2022, the students witnessed an abrupt closure of this area. The gates were barricaded on the basis that temporary construction was taking place. When the closure lasted for over two weeks, students inquired again. They heard rumours that the area was being reconstructed for washrooms for security and housekeeping staff however there was no official statement about the closure. The administration took the decision unilaterally, and no student representative was involved in the process. Additionally, no other discussions took place to find an alternative to this space. The current lack of a smoking space on campus has resulted in students heading outside campus gates where they have reported unsafe interactions and cases of eve teasing and harassment. In the survey, 38% of students said that they had witnessed or been in an uncomfortable situation outside campus.
In an interview, the Vice-President of Operations at Ashoka, Bhaskar Mishra, hinted that the closure might have to do with the SR turning into a party-zone. He also reiterated that various reasons like UGC guidelines, smoking being an illegal and unsafe activity, and even COVID concerns went into the decision to close down the area. When asked about the rising cases of harassment that were being attributed to the closing of the SR, he acknowledged that it was something that the administration was aware of and working towards. They plan on increasing internal security, are in touch with the local police, and have ensured an increase in patrolling around campus to ensure the safety of the students.
The Edict further received varying responses from students regarding the closure of the SR. Some agreed that while the reasons behind the decision made sense, they were bothered by the frequent lack of communication from the administration. Others believed that the decision to close the smoking room was warranted. A few students also expressed that the space was used for socialising and unwinding and that such an area was needed on campus. They stated, “The SR was a perfect ‘control-free space’ where students were free to do what they wanted whilst still being supervised by the administration.” Another student said that it was a “mature recognition” by the administration that students in Ashoka were above 18 and indulged in activities like smoking. Additionally, having a dedicated space for the same ensured that other people aren’t bothered by the smell. On the contrary, some students condemned smoking as a recreational activity and fully supported the administration's decision. One of them wrote, “The entire discourse on beefing up security outside campus is extremely classist and only strengthens the privileged Ashokan narrative. We're fine with the SR, we're fine without it.”
When Bhaskar Mishra was further asked about the future of the SR, he replied, “Ashoka provides all types of sports and recreational activities and smoking does not qualify as one of them. However, if students still wish to smoke they can go outside the campus and do so.” In the end, a significant portion of the survey respondents thought that Ashoka needs to provide a dedicated space for smoking and other activities on campus. At the same time, it is important to note that the ‘Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply, and Distribution) Act, 2003’ restrains smoking in any public places, and defines educational institutions under these public places. Furthermore, the selling of tobacco is also illegal up to a hundred yards around such defined spaces.
The responses to the survey are indicative of how the decision to close the SR might not be consistent with the will of the students. Many are worried that this contributes to a larger pattern of the administration acting unilaterally in matters that involve and directly affect a considerable part of the student body. The smoking room remains shut and its future remains uncertain while students hope for a re-emergence.