Empty Rooms, Loaded Wallets: The Troubled Tenant

In March 2020, India had announced the first lockdown for 21 days. This was followed by multiple other lockdowns, sometimes even indefinite ones across the nation. As various State governments introduced different strategies to tackle the pandemic, many students were among others who were stuck in a state of uncertainty with regards to their future.

Empty Rooms, Loaded Wallets: The Troubled Tenant

With an epidemic having transformed into a pandemic, and with uncertainty dwelling over our thoughts and lives, a large number of students who had rented rooms in and around Gangtok are finding it difficult to tackle the issue of rent to be paid for their unoccupied rooms.  Over the past decade, Sikkim had witnessed an abundant growth in the number of courses being offered at educational institutions. With the increase in the number of courses and seats, Gangtok has also developed as an educational hub of North-East India, especially catering to the needs of students from Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Assam among other districts of Sikkim.

In March 2020, India had announced the first lockdown for 21 days. This was followed by multiple other lockdowns, sometimes even indefinite ones across the nation. As various State governments introduced different strategies to tackle the pandemic, many students were among others who were stuck in a state of uncertainty with regards to their future.

In Gangtok, East Sikkim, localities such as Tadong, 5th Mile, Metro and so on had developed into temporary abodes for students coming from places other than Gangtok to pursue their education. And with limited hostel facilities and other reasons, many of them have taken up rooms to stay in during their period of education in the capital. But with the number of cases increasing by the day and the uncertainty of their classes, many students are finding themselves paying the rent for their rooms which are unused. Some had left with just a few clothes and essentials thinking they would be back soon. And in the case of some, their offline classes had also begun and they returned for the same.

In times of such great uncertainties, students ponder over giving up their rooms as they do not know if they will have to return for classes. And if they do so, they might find it difficult to find a new place upon normalcy. And another major issue during these times is of shifting or relocating to another place. With a general price rise that the nation has been witnessing over the past few years and a decline in terms of employment and job opportunities, many families are finding it difficult to make their ends meet. And it is at such times that many such families are having to pay rent for locked-up rooms.

A research scholar for Sikkim University who has been staying at Gangtok for about 10 years now feels the pressure of having to pay the rent for his room when he has not been as he has returned home. From 2015 to 2021, the rents have doubled and he feels in such difficult times when people are getting laid off and paid reduced salaries, it is really difficult to manage the high rents. According to him, “the issue is not only faced by students but many other working professionals as well. I wish there was some sort of a subsidy from which both the tenants and the owners could benefit.” He also wishes for more empathy from the house owners with regards to this issue; to meet in the middle in terms of reduction of rent for this time period.

Another student who has been facing similar issues says, “I am not sure if I can vacate my room as it is really difficult to find a room near my university. It took me almost two months to find this. And shifting between online and offline classes has left me uncertain about what to do. Now I have been in my hometown for the past few months and yet I need to pay full rent for the room I am not using.”

But in contemplating and attempting to look at this crisis in the larger framework of the society, these difficult times have been hard on everyone. It is time we try and understand the reason behind a capital city drawing such high rates of migration for education and professions. Such high rates of migration lead to demand for more houses for rent and the raise of rent in order to meet the high demand. At times of such crises, when both tenants and owners are at loss as social beings, it would be a great beginning to show a little empathy and help each other as human beings.

by Vaidyanath Nishant. The author is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at vaidyanathnishant7@gmail.com