“When we teach students, we do not merely teach them; we make them good human beings so that they can contribute to society. What inspiration would they draw when they see us struggling on the streets for a right as basic as a permanent job, even after having years of teaching experience and research? Should we tell them that this ad hocism will never end and you will struggle like us?” The words sum up the agitation by hundreds of teachers from Delhi University who rallied on the streets of the national capital fearing joblessness in the upcoming session commencing in mid-July this year.
The teachers at this premier central university have been protesting for the opening up and filling of vacancies against thousands of vacant positions. As per the association's estimates there are about 4,500 vacant seats to be filled. Although the teachers planned to conduct a march, the police did not allow for it in the wake of COVID-19 protocols. The police later shifted the teachers to Jantar Mantar.
Assembled in front of the iconic Embassy of Nepal at Mandi House on the call of the Delhi University Teachers’ Union (DUTA), the teachers said that the latest proposal of merging online teaching with online education would displace teachers who are currently serving and have been waiting for their regularisation for more than a decade.
Speaking to Newsclick, Abha Dev Habib, an assistant professor at Miranda House college said that teachers had suspended their movement last year in the wake of the pandemic. “We expected that the government would listen to us. Instead, it wishes to displace us through the new education policy. The regulation of uploading 40% of the classes on Swayam means that we will simply lose our jobs and the biggest casualty in this process would be ad hoc teachers,” she said. Swayam is an online portal of the government of India where online classes have been offered for free. However, the government has asked the university to supplement class room teaching with online classes.
When asked how common students would be affected, Habib said that contractualisation would "deprive every single person of their basic rights. The teachers who are struggling on the streets are the ones who topped their departments and universities. Rather than developing their labs, conducting their research and bringing excellence to the university, their prime focus has been on saving their jobs because colleges would restructure their workforce every four months. Above all, which student will join higher education if they see the teacher struggling for maternity leave?”
Sangeeta Sharma Dhaor who teaches at Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar College said the existing system has resulted in teachers compromising with their dignity at every step. "Everyone wants stability in their life. Even after teaching for years an ad hoc cannot avail the facility of a home loan because the bank would simply deny it to them saying they have a temporary job.”
Maya John, another teacher at the Jesus and Mary College, emphasised that it was the sheer lack of teachers which compelled thousands of students to opt for correspondence courses at the School of Open Learning even though they had scored excellent marks. "They could have been taught by teachers like us but nobody paid heed. Secondly, ad hoc teachers are not appointed convenors in statutory committees, even when you are a good administrator.”
Speaking to Newsclick, Rajib Ray, President, DUTA said the teachers’ demands have been "just" and there were precedents too where state governments have absorbed working employees."Recruitment in Delhi University has not happened for more than a decade except sporadically, which has resulted in this situation whereby young teachers are forced into situations of extreme vulnerability with no benefits or leave like their permanent colleagues," said Ray.
"While the government is going ahead with the implementation of the NEP at breakneck speed, teachers fear that this will further the precarity of ad hoc teachers with the proposed move towards blended learning and imposition of Swayam with decreased focus on classroom teaching. As far as absorption is concerned, other state governments did it. If states can resolve long-pending issues, so can the Centre," he added. Ray was referring to one time absorption done by the Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh governments.
Another teacher summed up the struggle: "In the 21st century you wish to be a Vishwaguru. How would this happen when the guru itself is insecure about themselves. And we are not demanding anything new. It was the MHRD who promised us the resolution in 2018. It is time for it to act now!”