Born and raised in Narayanganj, Farhana Zaman moved to Dhaka in 2003 in order to pursue a career in medicine. Her family had been permanent residents and having their business neatly settled in Narayanganj for generations, moving to Dhaka was simply not an option.
Farhana sought lodging at one of the private female hostels; an establishment not affiliated to the college, but one run exclusively for female students like herself. She thanks her parents till this day for respecting the decision of a naive 20-year-old to stay in a hostel rather than living with one of her family members residing in Dhaka.
“For me it was a matter of freedom more than anything else,” Dr Zaman said while reminiscing about her four years of hostel life. “The authorities did not question my attitude towards life. As naive as they now seem, even to me, that post-teen carefree attitude could have been problematic had I stayed with relatives.”
Traditionally, Bangladeshi parents never felt secure with their daughter opting to stay in a hostel; such apprehensions still abound. However, the reality is, every day, thousands of women are coming to Dhaka to seek higher studies. The proverbial 'roof over the head' is still a major concern, but not at the cost of giving up privacy, liberty, and individual freedom. More and more women now prefer to stay on their own and to cater to this growing demand, hostels for women are now more in number.
Even a few years ago, private institutions were solely for the privileged class, but the situation has changed. Many students now enrol at private universities from various regions of the country and the universities are now focused on providing suitable accommodation for their students.
“I feel safe staying here” said Syeda Saima Sajida, currently an undergraduate student at one of the more reputed private institutions, now living in a hostel run by her alma mater. “The gates close at 10PM sharp, and no entry or exit is allowed after that, except in cases of emergency. Only registered family members are allowed to visit and that too through prior notice” she added.
According to Sajida, the hostel has two female supervisors who are in charge of all the resident students. Rules are strict, sometime even school-like, yet even she feels they are important in maintaining the standard of the facility.
“One of supervisors takes attendance at 10PM every night, and if we fail to report, she comes to our room to check on us. There is a registry book that we all must sign before leaving the hostel, and upon our arrival.” said Saima.
For renowned places open to a wider range of women seeking accommodation, the idea is to offer an environment that the female occupants can expect at their own homes, irrespective of where they are.
The monthly rent for lodging at the hostels vary depending on multiple factors starting from location, number of residents, the standard of the room, to the availability of Wi-Fi. Good facilities not only ensure safety, but also keep hygiene and cleanliness on their list of priorities. The menu they offer are also given due importance.
All residents pay on a monthly basis (some in advance), which includes rent, electricity, and water supply. Most hostels accommodate two females per room, although arrangements can often be made for single rooms. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner often come along with the package.
“The adda is what I remember most. And then there were midnight prank calls to unknown numbers. But there was always the fear of being bullied, snacks being devoured without asking, and valuables getting misplaced. Some of the girls were always more keen on who was dating who, rather than focusing on anything productive. And in an era when mobile phones were just becoming available to 20 year olds like me and social media non-existent, hostel rooms were fertile grounds for breeding rumours” she said, adding — “Much may not have changed” with a smirk!
“We had to grasp a barrage of medical jargons just to pass class tests, and sleepless nights of group study actually helped. Our classmates living with their families faced more difficulties in their study of medicine. But then there was always the dreaded 'chicken and chalkumra curry' to complain about, or the 'super soupy lentil' that was daal beyond recognition,” said Dr Zaman.
In retrospect, Farhana believes that opting for the hostel was a water-shed moment in her life —
“It had rules we had to comply. Some were strict, and to be honest, back then, most of them felt unfair, unnecessary even; but they taught me discipline. The hostel experience imparted lessons in life which I carry till this very day as a professional, a wife, and as a mother.
Hostels, by their very nature, cater to people from all backgrounds. It can be viewed as an opportunity to meet new people, and a unique chance to decide on the direction for the river of life to flow. In a society now plagued with social maladies, it can be key to success.
More and more female hostels are now opening their doors. For those who are now temporary residents of the city, needless to say, these temporary solutions are a boon.