Jia Sarai - Off Limits

Jia Sarai is today classified in the Delhi revenue records as an “urban village”. Agriculture, the main occupation changed when its lands were taken over by the Government of India in the 1950’s,  to build a premier Institute of excellence - the IIT Delhi. For years buffaloes grazed through the campus as part of the compensation package offered to the villagers. Offspring of the village community were accommodated in the offices of the new institution as government employees. A common wall flanked the Jia Sarai settlement’s southern edge. But in early 2000’s, the  shared opening in the wall, which connected Jia Sarai’s bustling main street, its Lucky Restaurant and Sharma Photostat with the educational giant next door, was walled up. The swank new Bharti School coming up, just in front of the opening, could not permit open thoroughfare to outsiders.

Jia Sarai’s shared history with IIT Delhi has been erased with this security measure. From meeting place, where the locals interacted with the  IIT community both as customers and commuters, cutting through the colony to the Outer Ring Road beyond, Jia Sarai has become a dead end colony, a commercial coaching  hub and anxious living space for the wannabe, struggling world of temporary students.

Superficially linking this  world with that of education and privilege next door, is a neglected dirt corridor, discouraging free movement.


Jia Sarai


The narrow path lying  between IIT Delhi (a premier education institute) and Jia Sarai (the coaching hub), featured on this and the next two slides.

Can the two worlds really connect?

You decide!


Diversity at Jia SaraiJia Sarai forms a nucleus of aspiring and budding engineers, civil servants, IIT entrants,  from various parts of India who arrive in the metropolitan city of Delhi - with a baggage of high ambitions and aspirations.

The floating student population is evident from the large number of two wheelers in Jia Sarai, which brings in students from neighbouring areas, preparing for various competitive exams (IAS, GATE, CAT etc).

Local landlords too prefer motorcycles over bicycles, an indication of the relative affluence of urban villages like Jia Sarai. In any case, the lanes are too narrow for anything other than motorcycles.


The shifting population of aspiring students are forced to ignore the ugly, unhealthy environment in which they are pursuing their dreams.

Being temporary residents, no collective self-help effort at waste collection has emerged. Lanes are narrow. Municipality gets an excuse to ignore Jia Sarai:

 “..trucks just U-turn from the main road and go away,” said one disgusted student.

Any complaints, “the landlords get aggressive” said another.

Even living spaces for students, hardly count as that – they are mostly used just to sleep after attending tuitions and coaching classes.

The inside of these PGs or Paying Guest accommodations, as they are called, are cramped with no proper ventilation.

The rooms hardly receive sunlight and fresh air.

Most of them have shared toilets and are filthy.

The buildings virtually touch each other, as they move from one storey to another, leaving no scope for privacy.


Habitat Jia SaraiEven the air has no freedom to breathe in Jia Sarai – the fate of many urban villages. Lanes are narrow and dark.


Yet, signs like this are seen everywhere. Landlords are assured wave upon wave of temporary  tenants – unmarried young students, bearing up with Jia Sarai’s living conditions only because of need.

There simply are not so many rented places to be had for aspiring students, waiting to pass an exam or get admission to a Course or the hostel room in JNU or IIT. 

The landlords are today only able to make money by renting out portions of their pocket sized homes, built  any which way, on the ancestral, abadi (habitation) lands left to them. Of course returns are assured - Each time a student moves out, the rent is raised.Survival Jia Sarai

PG accommodations are usually located upstairs, while the family lives on the ground floor, sometimes renting out a room to a commercial establishment.

Imagine, what must life be like back at home in UP or Bihar or Rajasthan, if even Jia Sarai a village of Delhi, is preferred over them…?

Or is the squalor of Jia Sarai, just part of the cost outsiders feel they have to pay, to become part of the capital city of India, its opportunities and dreams ?

The fact that everyone in Jia Sarai is of a certain age and is in the same boat, does makes life a little more bearable of course.

Survival Jia SaraiJia Sarai remains one of the few affordable living places for a student, in South Delhi, even though rents are far too high for the facilities provided.

On the narrow streets of Jia Sarai…away from their homes and families…yearning for a hot, home cooked meal….many  aspiring young students are dependent on the food services offered by varied street vendors.


 Contributed by: Ritubhan Gautam

Last modified onWednesday, 14 November 2012 02:41
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