‘Kankar chuni-chuni, mahala banavli,
Hum bhaiili pardesi…’
Thousands of teachers, for no fault of theirs and in conditions not of their own making, have been employed for years on end, at colleges of Delhi University – together with a few more at some university departments – in exploitative ‘ad-hoc’ conditions of hyper-precariousness, humiliation and unequal benefits for doing the same, regular, perennial work necessary to the functioning of the university as permanent teachers. This, despite the intent and spirit to the contrary, of the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act (CLRA Act), 1970, and the clear provisions spelt out in DU’s own Executive Council (EC) Resolution No. 120 (8) of 27.12. 2007 that
- “i) In case there is a sudden, unexpected and short vacancy, arising out of a sudden sickness or death, on medical grounds (including maternity leave), abrupt leave or any other situation that may disrupt the normal process of teaching-learning, an ad hoc appointment may be made….
- iv) The ad hoc appointment shall only be made for a period of more than one month and up to four months (i.e. 120 days) in accordance with the provisions contained in clause 3(1) of Ordinance XII.
- v) Whenever the vacancy arises for the duration of more than four months, the same may be filled up on temporary basis as per due process and procedure i.e. through a duly constituted Selection Committee.”
Acknowledging the wrongs they have suffered and the invaluable contributions they have made through the intellectual and administrative labour they have put in towards the survival and daily making of DU colleges and departments as theatres of the possible and as sites for critical thought, social relationships and practice for all – including for permanent employees – teachers working in ‘ad-hoc’ capacity should, in all fairness and through appropriate mechanisms that respect the framework of the 200-Point DoPT Roster, be retained as permanent faculty. This would, by any norms and standards of natural justice, be the only dignified and just measure of recognising the well-deserved claim to their jobs that has accrued to ‘ad-hocs’ as an earned right through dint of long histories of work done by them in the adverse, if not hostile, working conditions and environments thrust upon them.
Instead, even many long-serving ‘ad-hoc’ teachers at DU, including those from the reserved categories and women, are being robbed off their jobs, dignity and rights. Abandoned, their lives menaced by imminent economic catastrophe, and their long histories of work sought to be erased, they are finding themselves on the cusp of losing all that really matters. It is as if the precious fabric-in-the-making that is DU, the unique weft and weave of which, they too, like so many others, have painstakingly contributed towards crafting, is, all of a sudden, being snatched from them, leaving them shell-shocked and the rest of DU shaken to the core.
In a cruel twist of irony, this is happening through interviews for permanent appointments that are being conducted across DU after a gap of almost a decade and a half, against posts on most of which teachers have been working in an ‘ad-hoc’ capacity for years, many for close to a decade and more. Unfortunately, far from embracing permanency, it is these very teachers, who now – as we come of the year when DU turned 100 and independent India 75 – have either already been removed from their jobs or are staring at this fearsome possibility.
This wheel of destruction demands serious collective deliberation towards devising ways of addressing the prevailing unprecedented existential crisis at DU in solidarity with all ‘ad-hoc’ teachers based upon an understanding and appreciation of their demand for permanent employment in their current places of work. If this does not happen immediately and with force of conviction, the coming months might continue as an unending nightmare not just for ‘ad-hoc’ teachers, but for all employees and students, while also turning, perhaps, into DU’s worst ever season of tragedy and shame.
‘Ad-hoc’ appointees become teachers in colleges after going through merit-based interviews. They are appointed for durations of up to four months. Within this period – in the event that the vacancy in question may be longer than four months – selection committees are supposed to be constituted, fresh interviews advertised, and appointments made against temporary or permanent posts. The stipulations of the EC of DU, as quoted above, are clear on this issue, and were in fact the norm, more or less, until 2009-10.
All of this has been informed by the understanding that ‘ad-hoc’ conditions must remain a transient moment in teachers’ lives, and that too only if absolutely necessary; that the regular work of teaching demands regular forms of employment; and that anything else would constitute unfair labour practice and negatively impact teachers’ work. It would, for instance – as indeed it has done – jeopardise the freedom to think critically and speak and teach without fear, allow deeply entrenched hierarchies and arbitrariness, sycophancy and obsequiousness, to inform all practices of institutional functioning, and cause long-term mental and physical damage to those faced with job insecurity or unemployment.
Yet, all across the colleges of DU, students are being taught by thousands of teachers who, while in no way responsible for infinite delays in interviews for temporary or permanent appointments, have been struggling for years in an ‘ad-hoc’ capacity – many, if not most of them, against substantive posts – to offer the best they can in the face of all possible odds. It is credibly estimated that until recently, upwards of 4,000 teachers at DU were serving as ‘ad-hocs’, a huge proportion of them for inordinately long spans of time.
This, combined with the additional employment of guest lecturers, seems to clearly indicate that DU, in violation of its own commitments, has witnessed the normalisation of ‘ad-hoc’ employment practices. It has been increasingly functioning on the exploited backs of low-cost casual labour, thereby also weakening the foundations of its existence as a university. Let us not forget, after all, that fair employment relations lie at the heart of sound institutions, but equally, that numbers alone, the number of teachers working as ‘ad-hocs’ for instance, or the number of years they might have done so and the changing structure of employment relations, tell us just a part of the story. Only with complementary histories of how individual teachers have experienced their long years of working as ‘ad-hocs’ and the implications of such work for their lives, shall we be able to fully grasp the ills that the spread of ad-hocism has spawned for teachers’ lives as well as for the practice of education at DU.
It bears emphasising that over the last many years – especially after 2009-10 – teachers who joined as ‘ad-hocs’ continued teaching in their respective positions not because they wished to continue as ‘ad-hocs’, but due to their commitment to public education and in the real hope, based on DU’s own avowed promises and past best practices, that interviews for temporary or permanent appointments would be conducted soon. Advertisements for permanent appointments did indeed appear and forms were bought and filled, over and over again. Yet, to their consistent dismay, with the exception of a few departments in some colleges around 2014-15, no interviews were conducted.
Instead, despite repeated demands raised by the DU teachers’ movement against the normalisation of ‘ad-hocism’, ‘ad-hoc’ appointments got further entrenched and were allowed to expand into the unjustifiable present system. The result has been the ‘permanent’ creation of a huge body of overburdened and harassed teachers, never absolutely certain about the renewal of their four-month long appointment contracts, and who even with renewal, have always suffered a day’s break in service between their two dates of appointment, while however, continuing to work on that particular day. This has effectively meant that ‘ad-hoc’ appointees have ended up working without pay on all break-in-service-days, year in and year out.
Additionally, ad-hoc teachers’ appointments have always been terminated on the last working day of an academic calendar, which normally falls in the month of May. Consequently, although they continued working thereafter despite not being on the rolls, ‘ad-hoc’ appointees did not receive their two months’ ‘summer salary’ until much later in the year, and that too only on condition that they secured a teaching job w.e.f the first working day of the new academic session starting in July. If, for any reason, this were to not happen, teachers could very well end up losing the salary due to them, or, in other words, performing weeks of unpaid labour: evaluating scripts, for instance, or doing admissions-related work and sundry administrative duties, but for no pay at all.
The unfair extraction of the labour services of ‘ad-hoc’ teachers over the past many years has been compounded by the absence of benefits that rightfully accrue to permanent employees. Teachers working in ‘ad-hoc’ capacity are, for instance, neither entitled to receiving gratuity, provident fund and increments in pay, nor to promotions, the full range of medical benefits and different kinds of paid leave, including for example, study leave, child care leave, or leave for attending conferences, refreshers courses/faculty development programmes etc. They are entitled, at most, to one casual and one earned leave per month, neither of which can be ‘carried over’ or en-cashed (in the case of earned leave). Medical leave maybe granted them but only against half pay, while, “in case, the ad hoc appointees wish to avail the facility of WUS Health Centre, they shall be allowed the membership of WUSHC for the specified period, for which they shall be issued temporary identity cards”. In particular, it needs to be remembered that it was only recently that DU’s EC resolved to grant maternity leave to ‘ad-hoc’ teachers.
Thus, although ‘ad-hoc’ faculty members are expected to do the same work as permanent teachers and although they have actually ended up doing much more, and that too, for years on end, their overall service conditions have remained much worse than those of permanent faculty, with the physically, economically and socially disadvantaged (including gender and minorities) amongst them faring the worst of all. If they have nonetheless, continued to work ‘permanently’ as ‘ad-hoc’ teachers in excess of their due share of responsibility and at great personal and professional costs to themselves, they have done so, their commitment to teaching apart, under force of circumstance and the arbitrary, if not unconstitutional employment conditions of ‘permanent ad-hocism’ imposed upon them.
In a marvellous twist to history, however, many of them have, through their resolve to encourage critical, independent thought and cultivate creative imaginations through reading, writing and discussing issues without fear, not only infused remarkable freshness and meaning for themselves through the work they have done, but have touched the everyday academic, intellectual and cultural life of colleges. They have done this both inside classrooms and laboratories and in the corridors, lawns, conference halls, auditoria, and the lanes and by-lanes of colleges and the university, while also performing, in enforced relative anonymity, the difficult daily tasks of institution building and the crafting of truly inclusive work spaces.
They have, in other words, not simply been shaped by DU and its colleges and laboured in turn, to keep them afloat and functioning over the past many years, but have actively contributed towards scripting, shaping, enriching and deepening cultures of freedom, democracy, intellectual enquiry, scholarship and festivity among colleagues and innumerable batches of students. It is for this reason perhaps, that for many ‘ad-hocs’, colleges and university departments, while often remaining ‘alienating’ sites for hyper-precarious and unduly extractive waged work, have also come to ‘belong’ to them as much as they have to their places of work through devising the fairest possible modalities.
With such histories of work and deeply felt everyday experiences of the injustices of ‘permanent ad-hocism’ behind them, it is no wonder that the argument has organically arisen from within the ranks of ‘ad-hoc’ teachers that they have earned for themselves a rightful claim to their respective posts and should therefore be retained as permanent employees at their places of work.
Indeed, the demand for permanency, resting as it does on the plea to acknowledge the illegitimacy of the ‘ad-hocism’ that has been inflicted on them at DU, and to respect the demanding histories of the work they have performed, is unassailable. It easily overrides any arguments made to the contrary and resonates powerfully with a few lines in Majaz’s ‘Bol Ari O Dharti Bol’:
‘Naami aur mashoor nahin hum, Lekin kya mazdoor nahin hum…
Bol Ari O Dharti Bol…
Bol ki teri khidmat ki hai,
Bol ki tera kaam kiya hai…
Bol ki humse jaagi duniya,
Bol ki humse jaagi dharti.’
It is injustice enough to have compelled teachers to work permanently in ‘ad-hoc’ conditions. It is cruelty many times compounded to rob them of their jobs now, the kind of cruel injustice that Gorakh Pandey writes about in his Bhojpuri poem, ‘Ajadiya Hamra ke Bhaave le’:
‘Kankar chuni-chuni, mahala banavli,
Hum bhaiili pardesi…’
“In all people I see myself… I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person,” wrote Walt Whitman in ‘Song of Myself’, the words resonating with Xhosa sensibility that “people are people through other people”. The humiliation that has been inflicted on ‘ad-hoc’ teachers at DU, and the havoc and insecurities being now wrought in their lives, all of this has not been happening to ‘others’. It is happening to us all.
Freedom, justice, a sense of wellbeing and the possibilities for living our lives as human beings to their full potential, are after all, indivisible and can only be truly experienced and realised when they accrue to all. Let us then come together to ‘Ring the bells that still can ring’ and to uphold our rights, our common humanity and our commitment to higher education by listening to the voices of ad-hoc teachers, documenting all that they have experienced and the histories of the precious work they have done, and by standing in solidarity with their urgent cry for ‘permanence’ so that nobody and nothing is forgotten, justice and rights not crushed, dreams not wasted and hope not torn to shreds, for, ‘That’s how’ as Leonard Cohen sang, ‘the light gets in’.
Mukul Mangalik is a former teacher of history, Ramjas College, University of Delhi.