You may not know us by our names but you must have interacted with us sometime, seen us in your classroom, or in the college corridors running to the classrooms with your attendance sheets and assignment papers. You must have also spotted us holding bouquets in college events or during election and exam duties. Some of us, especially the younger ones, might have been the butt of your canteen jokes too. We understand that these pranks were just a healthy part of campus life, something we all fondly recall as we get older and busier in later life. Well then, yes, we are teachers from your college, better designated as adhoc teachers, to be technically right.
Adhoc is very unique sub-species found among the larger species of the labour force called casual labour. Permanent faculties hold no qualms and think it’s ‘OK’ to shift their workload on us, the college administration thinks it’s ‘OK’ to ask for routine administrative work from us, many students also think that it’s ‘OK’ to misbehave with us, and most Heads of institutions (Principals) think we are kaamchors (lazy) who need to be put under eternal surveillance and given copious doses of humiliation in a routine manner.
Just like an early morning NCC parade, every semester the flock of adhoc faculties are separately called by the Principal for the ‘drill of accountability’. We are not entitled to post-retirement pension schemes and women adhoc faculties are even deprived of maternity leave. Our paid leave (academic/medical) are scarce. We are constantly made to be conscious of our marginalised status by being overloaded with work alongside the job-insecurity that hangs like a sword of Damocles over our head every semester during contract-renewal. Above all of these, if by mistake we are from the reserved category (OBC, ST, SC) or from North East then adding to all these difficulties, half of our time and energy is drained in proving to our own fellow faculties (both permanent and adhocs) that we are as ‘meritorious’ and as ‘deserving’ as any other in the staff room.
But just like life does not exist in purely black or white, the shades of discrimination are similarly obfuscating and differ from college to college. The existence of faculties (principal and/or administrative staff) that are supportive, helpful and encouraging towards Adhoc teachers are exceptions and not the rule. Notwithstanding all these inner tensions and conflicts, all of us are united by one fact; that all of us want to save the basic public-funded and socially inclusive character (however imperfect it currently is) of higher education. Teachers are united in protesting against the government’s move of cutting funds of public universities/colleges, tampering with the policy of social inclusion via changing formula of calculating reserved seats, inordinate delay in filling permanent posts and obstruction of regular promotion and decent pension for permanent faculties.
Overworked but underpaid faculty members of Delhi University help in the smooth functioning of academic activities in around 80 odd colleges. We are indispensable yet disposable after every four months (one semester). Most of us are young, pursuing our academic work (MPhil, PhD) simultaneously but there are also many who have been teaching in colleges for over 20 years. Some even 30 years. Some already hold the highest academic degree which one can pursue (PhD) but are still teaching as adhoc teachers for a very long time.
Many of us are married and sole earners in the entire family. If we lose our job, then our house will crumble under the pressure of economic insecurity and desperation. We might have to stop our children from going to school and colleges. If we lose our job for a long time, then it won’t be long when we will find ourselves languishing in the street.
Two of our very promising friends have left us (Dr Anis Ahmad was teaching in Faculty of Music, DU as adhoc for past 5 years and Dr Sudheer Panday was at SGBT Khalsa College). We don’t know the actual cause of their death. They may have died of some medical reasons, but we think the harsh working conditions, unbearable job insecurity and rising expenses must have also taken its toll and played a fatal role in ending their life. Even though both were different in all aspects, they had only one thing in common – a dream of getting a permanent job. After all, how long and how far can people lead a life surrounded by such uncertainties?
But you may think teachers are hitting the street in 44 Celsius temperature and boycotting answer script checking just for their individual interest. The reality is that this is a collective fight of both teachers and students. There has been a prolonged delay in the appointment of 4000 vacant teaching positions in the university. The changed formula for calculating reserved seats will bring an end to social inclusion in higher education. Even permanent teachers are suffering because of an unexplained delay in promotion and the precarious nature of pension.
A series of policy changes made by both the previous and current government has led to such a stage that public-funded education which used to be affordable for all, is getting dismantled and dying a slow death. You must know that there is a plan of massive fund cut (70:30 formula) for public-funded institutions like Delhi University and in the name of ‘autonomy’ (financial autonomy not academic autonomy), most institutions are opening the doors for privatisation. This will lead to massive fee hike and many of you will not be able to afford an education at all. To put matters in perspective, a simple three year UG BA course in Ashoka University costs ₹21 lakh compared to ₹32,000 in St. Stephen’s. The policy of making education socially sensitive and inclusive via the policy of reservation will be scuttled. The door of higher education, which is an aspiration for many and an effective ladder for economic upliftment, will be shut forever for a majority of citizens of this country.
We know you must be asking what is the fault of students here? Why should they be punished for something they have not done? Yes, it is not your fault but is neither is it ours to be made to live a life of misery. The future of lakhs of students who come from socially and economically marginalised background are at stake. If we lose this battle to save public-funded education then not only you but an entire generation has to suffer. It will be a loss for everyone. Will you stand with us, shoulder to shoulder, in this fight for the right to decent work, dignity and livelihood security for everyone? Will you fight with us to save both the present and the future of public-funded education?
Your friend, well-wisher, teacher,
Charvak, Adhoc teacher from Delhi University