To Buy or Not to Abide: A qualitative, ethnocentric introspection of my experience teaching sociology at Chumba Gore Pool.
All my options are exhausted. All email queries, all in-person queries have met a brick wall since 2018. Unsure if this introspection will make a difference but it is the only way to get some internal conflict resolution out.
After my experience teaching at Chumba Gore, I have little faith and NO intentions of voluntarily getting involved in our broken justice system. I was appointed as visiting faculty for Chumba Gore in 2018. I gave an interview on 17th May, 2018 and presented a demo lecture on ‘Sociology for Gore Students’ for a panel of faculty members including Head Honcho Second-In-Command (HHSIC).
On 7th June, I was told I had been hired for the coming semester. I received an offer letter signed by Premiere on 25th June. The letter stated that I would be paid Rs 1750 per lecture for a 60-minute lecture. I would teach approximately 120 students from 2nd July to 26th October.
I was so excited about giving lectures at what WAS one of India’s most prestigious Gore Pools. When I did not get paid a penny in June, I let it go. Everyone knows what these Pools are like, no one ever gets paid on time.
On 1st August, I went to the accounts department as, despite earlier queries, there was zero response on how I would be paid. It is only then that someone even bothered to take down my bank details. However, 15th August came and went and still – not a single penny. On 16th August, I was sent an email saying we needed to fill a form out about PT and GST details. Which I did. September came around and still no salary.
On September 17th, after 2 months and 15 days of work without a single penny and barely a couple of weeks to exams, I wrote an official email to the administration. I politely asked about the hold-up in my salary. No response to either that email or the one on 19th Sept regarding the same.
Several times, I spoke to the batch coordinator, administration offices and was reduced to waiting outside the faculty toilets, so I could get a word with HHSIC. I asked her about paying me for my work. When I finally managed a 30-second conversation with her, she told me something shocking. That shocking news was emailed to the entire visiting faculty the very next day.
The insane email sent to us the next day was that there had been a ‘typo’ in all our offer letters and we would actually be paid MUCH less for each lecture rather than the Rs. 1750 mentioned earlier.
Not only that, but our entire salary would ONLY be released after we had returned our original offer letters and were issued new ones. Unless we returned the original offer letter our payments would not be released. This was after nearly 3 months of working for free. I do not know what Parseltongue for this is but in common-tongue we call this fraud. Also, I am being kind with the word fraud.
I won’t talk about the fact that I have experienced things much worse in this Pool of Horrors that goes beyond Gore.
I won’t talk about the fact that making people work for free is slavery.
I won’t talk about the fact that while they say a semester lasts from 2nd July to 26th Oct, the actual teaching hours are significantly less. This fact reveals itself AFTER you sign up your dignity.
I will keep quiet about how my insides shook when I saw heinously graphic, pro-life pamphlets being distributed around to students.
I will keep quiet about how helpless I felt as a teacher when children raising concerns about sexual safety were invalidated instead of being acknowledged, LET ALONE PROTECTED. It is chilling to think that predators who should never be allowed near children, still work there. The courage some girls showed in speaking up made zero difference to the institutional rot that is at the core of Chumba.
I will keep quiet about how I feel when I see all the critical thinking, empathy, capacity to change unconstitutional behaviour and speaking truth to power being systematically programmed out of students.
I had a blast teaching Chumba students. They are so creative, so argumentative, so energetic and full of potential. They have ALL the potential it takes to make not just good lawyers and citizens but great lawyers and citizens. Except, it is being forced into cynicism, indifference, lack of empathy and collective action. A system that is propped up on exorbitant student fees uses the same fees to break their spirit.
I won’t fuss about the fact that we are paid by the hour but our transport is not reimbursed. There have been times when I travelled the 45min -1hr to it takes to get to the edge of the city, where Chumba is inconveniently located and was told that class has been cancelled due to some social activity or the other. If you do not own a vehicle, local transport usually takes roughly 40% of your lecture salary.
I will keep quiet about the fact that due to the prevalence of Private Pools like this, increasingly, our entire teaching system, including government universities, hire teachers by the hour, semester after semester instead of any sort of permanent or semi-permanent job stability or benefits.
I won’t fuss about the fact that we are paid by the hour but it takes us days if not months to structure a curriculum, curate and provide reading material, create interactive slides, design assignments, design exams, evaluate assignments, evaluate exams, use your ridiculous glitchy online systems and do about a 100 other UNPAID administrative tasks as ‘part of the Chumba family’. Your permanent faculty are treated worse!
At least government institutions reimburse visiting faculty transportation costs and perform kind gestures like offering us a cup of tea. I never witnessed anything like that at Chumba. Unless one goes to their overpriced canteen or if some prestigious faculty or foreign guests are on tour. Then there would be a buffet laid out in the cavernous lobby and all of us paraded around for flex – a word I learnt from my students.
I waited for hours outside Premiere’s office. This was after months of going from one department to another and finally breaking down in public in the Accounts office. I begged the accountants to deposit my salary at least for one month if not all 3. Premiere refused to meet with me or reply to any emails so I waited again for hours outside her sanctum sanctorum, saw Premiere going in and begged for 2min of her time.
I will never forget that moment when I asked about the offer letter and she startled the skin off me by screaming at the top of her lungs and blaming everyone in the Chumba administration from top to bottom, except herself. She kept saying that it was not her responsibility and there was nothing she could do about it. When I politely asked her who I should talk to, she said no one. The buck stops at her apparently?
I then asked her what was the solution. She got up from her chair, started waving her arms about in what seemed to be an apoplectic fit and yelled that I should either give back my offer letter or quit. While I was mildly concerned at her obvious state of distress and disarray, I politely asked her if she really wanted me to quit as the children had exams in a few short weeks. Opening her maw for the last shriek, she told me to quit and get out of her sanctum sanctorum of evil. I did, as I had a class in 5 min.
I went upstairs, I started teaching and then I broke down.
In front of my poor students, for which I am sorry till date. I told them I was quitting as I had not been paid and it did not look likely that I would be paid. I said they could contact me anytime and especially during the exam prep. Two years later they still do.
I am not the only one. There are single mothers, senior citizens and other young teachers starting their careers at Chumba institutions going through the same thing. There are teachers who are the sole caregivers or sole bread-earners of their family. Premiere’s email about retracting our offer letters AFTER 3 months of no salary caused a furore in the staff room. Only for a day though. The next day they all looked at me sadly and said this is how it was in here and this is how it will always be.
There are artificial divisions amongst permanent faculty and visiting faculty, between one group of students and another that go beyond their area of specialization. I have seen class division, caste division and endless other divisions arising from those, being reinforced at Chumba. Division discourages collective action; division discourages community effort.
The last time the children spoke out collectively about how their bodies had been violated – the entire might of this Pool was used to silence those poor girls. I was one of the lucky few. I grew up with some privilege. I was lucky I could make the decision to quit rather than continue working for free in that toxic environment. But I was afraid.
Institutions like these do not pay teachers a living wage but at-least we get to teach, so we stay.
I was afraid because institutions like this do not produce lawyers that will protect those who are being oppressed by institutions like this.
I was afraid because Chumba used to have a special office and plaque up for Mr. PoopPani and well, with those kinds of ethics at the head, how much faith can we have in the lawyers it produces or the justice system it props up in India?
How many of these students will be able to help the ordinary citizen or senior citizens let alone a near broke teacher? Unless there is a PR stunt of course or an eminent guest at the institution or the accreditation committee is on the prowl. Then you pull out all the stops when it comes to community service, don’t you? Most students can think of studying only corporate blasw to earn back the stunning fees Chumba charges per semester. Hardly a penny of which the faculty gets to see.
I know Chumba as an institution is untouchable. It is made up of lawyers. It has the backing of a massive legal-corporate nexus of the largest democracy in the world. How does one fight an institution like Chumba without getting burned? I’m guessing I will soon find out that one doesn’t.
One probably not only gets burnt but annihilated. But that is ok, one of the greatest lawyers and teachers of our time took up a cause 1000 times more difficult and wrote a constitution that would give hope to oppressed Indians. Recently an ordinary man stood up for the truth and for himself in face of a powerful and toxic system of peak oppression. Surely the least an ordinary woman like me should do is stand up for myself?
I write this only because my brain has been hard-wired to speak the truth. I would much rather do the easy thing or even better, the lazy thing. It took me 2 years to screw up the courage to introspect and speak up. I was warned by several people to not introspect because of Chumba’s HR. I was told if I introspected, I would never be hired. Not just at another Chumba institution but with the clout Chumba has, no one would hire me. Still, I introspected to HR, more than once, including today. I know this is career suicide at Chumba, but boss, there is a LIST OF CHILDREN that have died by REAL suicide at Chumba.
NO educational organization should have a LIST OF CHILDREN who lose their will to live, ANYWHERE.
Honestly, I am not afraid anymore. What else do I have to lose? I have my clothes, my books, my laptop which I guess is expensive, a bunch of earrings and a guitar that is mostly out of tune. I also have Rs 37,384.29 currently.
Although, I recently finished teaching another sociology course so I am expecting a cool Rs.20,000 next month which should take care of the few expenses that I cannot do without – like sanitary pads and books. I have my life and my conviction in the truth and while Chumba Gore Pool’s Premiere of all people can quash the first, what will she do about the latter? I love sociology, I try to live sociology. I have been studying and teaching before Chumba, after Chumba and will continue to do so after this.
I am not writing this for anyone else but myself. For me to restore faith in myself and my value system. I tried to forget about this, I tried to move on, I tried to rationalize that an Indian employee suffers toxic environments that are a million times worse than Chumba. That this happens to everyone and it has happened to me before as well in other organizations and at-least this was not sexual violence. However, just because this happens does not mean it should happen and it certainly does not mean that my experience is invalid.
I am writing this for my mental health and my peace of mind that I did EVERYTHING I could, to tell the truth, and stand up for myself. If as a teacher I went through constant mental harassment and threatening tactics during my stint there, I do not even want to imagine what younger, more vulnerable minds go through in this oppressive institution that rules with fear and pressure.
When I read the Premiere’s online bio before joining Chumba, I thought I was joining the right team. The online bio goes on at length about her gender training and expertise in feminist activism. I also noticed that apart from receiving scholarships herself she has initiated grants and scholarships for other students such as the Erasmus Scholarships and the Ontario-Maharashtra Grant. I am a recipient of both, thankfully not from Chumba though.
Why then this mistreatment of one student from another? Why this cruelty from one sister to another? I hope Premiere is better than this. I hope she did not take up blasw just because she was forced into it by Indian parents but because she truly believes in a non-oppressive, just society.
There are 100 other structures of bureaucracy and patriarchy that she must have fought to be where she is. This may have turned her into the person she is today. But she is there now! She did it! She is a woman with education, money and power! Use it to empower young teachers ffs. Teachers who are trying to work towards the same kind of free and fair society that she must have envisioned when she was a young lawyer. However, she uses it to oppress and bully with fear tactics and hoarse shrieking.
P.S. (After my breakdown at the accounts office in 2018, Chumba did transfer a portion of my salary that was due. Even that portion was according to their revised offer letter which I do not have. I do have the original though. They still owe me money for the remainder of my salary which I admit is not a lot, a few rupees, but why should Chumba get to keep that?)
Note to Parents: Today we have a plethora of creative and interactive tools which combined with organizations that may be small but have their ethics in place, will enable students to reach their true potential. A degree from an oppressive institution, no matter how prestigious, may help your kid get a job in the beginning but is it worth the cost of their real potential, creative spirit, mental health, the annihilation of ethical fibre and the ultimate will to live?
P.P.S.– Dayum that was cathartic, I am now sleepy. Sorry about the ‘typos’! 🙄
#educate #agitate #organize #campaign2020 #StopSuicide #CommuityCare #PreventChildSuicide #IntersectionalTraining #DiversityTraining #CriticalThinking #LifeSkills #EmpathyFirst
Disclaimer: Is kahani ke saare patra kalpanik hai. (All characters in this story are fictitious.)