New Delhi: The latest in a series of protests in institutes of higher education broke out in Delhi University, circling around the job security concerns of teachers, especially ad hoc faculty members.
In other institutes such as Uttarakhand Ayurveda University (UAU), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), students have been protesting against fee hikes.
On Wednesday morning, paramilitary and police forces were deployed in Delhi University. Stationed with water cannons, they watched about 5,000 members of the DU Teachers Association (DUTA) gherao vice-chancellor Yogesh K. Tyagi’s office. In a peaceful protest, the teachers, with banners, placards and slogans demanded the withdrawal of a letter circulated by the administration.
On August 28, the VC had circulated a letter to the DU Principal’s Association (DUPA) stating that the appointment of ad hoc teachers as faculty members will be stopped. Instead, the appointment of guest lecturers – who would be paid on an hourly basis – would be encouraged. The DUTA got to know about the circular only after it was leaked on social media.
Munish Tamang, a professor from the Department of English in Motilal Nehru College explained that the DUPA has deliberately misinterpreted the letter and have jeopardised existing ad hoc faculty members. He said that while the letter spoke about halting new appointments, the principals have instead moved to terminate current ad hoc faculty too.
An ad hoc teacher said that her salary, which is usually credited on the 30th of every month, was withheld until Wednesday. Under existing DU rules, ad hoc teachers are appointed for four months and the decision to renew is taken by the administration.
Another member who faces the threat of termination said that she has been an ad hoc faculty member for 19 years. “We have to get our appointment letter renewed every 4 months, which keeps us stressed and insecure about our jobs,” said Surabhi Singhal, who teaches commerce in Ramjas College.
“We have no employee benefits. We get no maternity leave despite the law mandating it,” said another female faculty from the same college. “We can’t plan anything.”
The members of DUTA stood in solidarity, demanding the absorption of ad hoc teachers and said that the protest will continue until the letter is withdrawn.
Sachin Narayanan, an assistant professor of English in the Delhi University said, “The guest faculty system is casualisation of the workforce. It also has unfair terms of employment and unfair wages. It is linked to what has been happening on the campuses around us. The aim is to make education a tradable service.”
Nandita Narrain, ex-DUTA president and a mathematics professor at St. Stephens College, added that the ad hoc faculty issue is interlinked with issues emerging in JNU and other universities. “All these are steps to implement the National Education Policy, in which the government’s expenses are to be cut in the form of terminating teachers and profit to be increased in the form of fee hikes,” she said.
Meanwhile, the JNU Students’ Union and JNU Teachers Association have expressed solidarity with DUTA.
JNUSU stands in support of DUTA.
March on Professors, we are with you. Arbitrary circulars, issued without consulting all stakeholders, are absolutely unacceptable. pic.twitter.com/96SjNb9lq1
— JNUSU (@JNUSUofficial) December 4, 2019
She said that while the rules say not more than 10% of the teaching staff should be ad hoc, it has not been followed. Narrain said approximately 50% (4,500) of the faculty members are ad hoc appointees. “They stopped making permanent appointments in 2010 without giving any reason,” she added.
Another ad hoc member, preferring to remain anonymous, said the nature of her job has put her in a precarious financial position. “I want to move to another house, but without financial stability, I cannot plan that.”
“There are teachers who have taught me and have more than 12 years of experience who are standing today protesting for the same reasons. She is drawing the same salary as I am. It’s a shame,” she expressed.
The teachers have boycotted invigilation and called for a shutdown in a barricaded area around the VC’s office. There has been no word from the VC yet in response to the protest.
“After 2000, the area around the VC’s office has been barricaded and to make it a citadel. The administration behaves in a feudal manner. This time, the barricades could not contain the anger,” said Narayanan.
Sanjay Kumar, ex-DUTA vice president, said that though the letter worked as a trigger, there has been discontent about the delay in the hiring process for a long time. “This is the first time the Delhi University has not held any dialogue. It is shameful.”
The protestors also want a proper promotion process and right rosters, which they say have been lacking for many years.
On being asked about other issues affecting the teaching staff, Tamang said, “There are teachers who have served the university for 30-40 years and their pension hasn’t been released. The ones serving for more than 12 years have not received any promotions. Higher education in India is in crisis.”
The protest continued late into the evening, with the teachers remaining adamant that until the ad hoc teachers are absorbed as permanent staff, their strike would continue.