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‘Institutional Murder’ By Academia: How The Death Of An Ad Hoc Teacher Cast A Grim Shadow On Students

While a few students of Samarveer Singh, an ad hoc at DU's Hindu College, noticed a visible change in his behaviour towards the end, others felt he was simply caught up with administerial work.

Protest over regularisation of ad hoc teachers in Delhi University.
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“I was shaken. I was speechless. I was in disbelief. But the news of Professor Samarveer’s death gradually sank in and something inside me knew that this was preventable and it had to do with him losing his job.” A 20-year-old student at Hindu College believes the death of Professor Samarveer Singh was a case of institutional murder, as she tries to process the guilt of what was caused by her institution.

On April 26, 33-year-old Samarveer Singh, an ad hoc Assistant Professor at Delhi University’s (DU) Hindu College ended his life after being dismissed from his seven-year teaching role at the university’s Philosophy department. The young professor from Rajasthan was found hanging from a ceiling fan inside his flat, which he shared with his cousin in outer Delhi’s Rani Bagh. The very next day, the college hosted its annual fest, Mecca, where the principal was spotted dancing joyously. While teachers gathered to partake in the fest, Samarveer’s students and close colleagues gathered for a condolence meeting.

“It was dystopian to see everyone celebrating, dancing as usual, while some of us were unable to find a bigger company to grieve with. It was more angering when the principal of the college was found dancing with students. She did not respond to any calls and did not even turn up for the condolence meeting organized by the student council,” Adrija (name changed to protect identity), says.

In March, the education ministry told the Parliament that there are over 6,000 vacant teaching posts across India’s Central Universities and yet, in 2022, the Central Universities were employing over 4,000 teachers on a temporary basis, according to a report by The Quint. In DU, over 40 per cent of its teaching workforce are ad hoc lecturers and this is so because ad hoc teachers bear the responsibilities equivalent to those of permanent posts yet are not entitled to benefits like gratuity, pension and medical allowance. As a result, employing ad hoc lecturers create a lesser hole in the pocket of universities.

However, when the time comes to make an appointment for permanent posts, many of these ad hoc professors lose their jobs even if they have served the institution for over a decade. This, despite the fact that colleges renew their contract year after year. Thus, it stands to reason, they were found to be competent to teach.

“The whole process of recruiting ad hoc professors has been happening in a very politically-motivated manner lately. We have seen similar protests happening in Ramjas College and Kirori Mal College too. What happened to Professor Samarveer is just the most brutal result of the whole process that has become a norm,” says Abhigyan Gandhi, Delhi president of the All India Students Association (AISA).

AISA had organised a protest outside Hindu College the day after the death by suicide of Samarveer Singh. They called it an institutional murder. AISA has been demanding justice for ad hoc professors who are shunted by the university the moment it comes to being hired for a permanent role.

The sudden replacement of professors in the middle of an academic session also has an adverse effect on students, notes Gandhi, who is an MA Political Science student at Ramjas College. “They don’t even care about the academic processes. I can tell from my own experience. Our teacher was suddenly fired just one month before our exams. We had no clue, no help till the end of the semester, till our exams. We did not have proper classes for an entire month. The new hirings also took their own sweet time.”

The students are suffering, the teachers who are fired are suffering but the university has become quite desensitised to the entire issue, he says.

While a few of Samarveer’s students noticed a visible change in his behaviour towards the end, others felt it was usual thinking he was so caught up with administerial work that he hardly found time for lectures. Samarveer was also seen as a shy person. Perhaps, that’s all the more reason the change was difficult to be seen by several students.

But Adrija could see that he was acting distant from students – He was not talking as much, and his mind was elsewhere. “In our last class, he just took a test and left. He did not speak,” she says.

Another student, who spoke on anonymity, saw him last on April 17 and was so delighted to have him back. This was not the first time, Samarveer was dismissed from his job. The same happened earlier, when he was coping to accept the same, his sister told NDTV in an interview. She further said that he had even got an offer elsewhere but refused it as the college called him back to only remove him after 15 days.

Trolling by department head

Besides calling Samarveer’s death an institutional murder, the students also point out the regular trolling he would face inside the college.

“He was facing constant humiliation from our teacher-in-charge and it was much later that I found out that he was being trolled and criticised for the way he spoke, talked, and even walked! So no wonder that he started acting distant from his students,” Adrija says.

To this, Kaveri (name changed to protect identity), adds, “He had long hair until one day when he suddenly cut it short. Initially, I could not make much of it until I learnt that he was being bullied because of his hair by the department head and other administration staff. Hence, he was compelled to cut them short to look more “presentable” for the interviews.”

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An ongoing academic tragedy

“To my knowledge, the professors who have come in Samarveer Sir's place are not as qualified as him, even though they work hard. This is an academic tragedy whose end I don't want to imagine, but it seems to be coming closer and closer,” Adrija says. 

Students, in line with media reports, believe that professors who are being recruited for permanent posts are being fixed and people of a particular political affiliation with the are being recruited.

Gandhi says that ad hoc teachers are being displaced to serve the ideological whims of the ruling party and its Hindutva wing. “They (administration) are taking away people’s livelihoods, of those who have been teaching us for years. They’re doing it so that they can get their preferred ideological people into the campus. We have been noticing this in every college under the university that has a strong BJP and RSS hold in the teaching and administrative department. And it is happening blatantly.”

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He claims that even the Delhi University Teacher’s Association (DUTA), whose leadership belongs to the National Democratic Teachers’ Front (NDTF), is backed by the BJP and RSS.

According to a report by Indian Express, candidates are often “recommended” by certain “social and cultural organisations”.

Most of the time, Gandhi says, these ad hoc professors who are fired are the ones who freely interact with students. “They are brutally firing professors who come from a lineage of democratic thinking. These professors are being thrown out of the university,” he says, adding that Samarveer’s death is the result of the brutality.

Kaveri, too, argues that seemingly progressive professors are being replaced by less experienced, more politically connected teachers, who can act as the system’s pawns. “The govt is targeting educational institutions to break students and teachers and prevent any progressive discourse from happening on campus. Schemes like the National Education Policy (NEP) and Four-Year Undergraduate Program (FYUP) are being implemented to break the backbone of public education and increased privatization of campuses is happening,” she says.

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Where does it end?

Students at the college say that Samarveer was not the only professor who was displaced from the department, there were two to three others. “In total, there were close to 15 professors, who were displaced from Hindu College as of May 8 2023. I can attest to the fact that the ones I knew were brilliant academicians and educators,” Adrija says. 

Gandhi also pointed out the complacency of the college that approved a fest in the middle of mourning. “The fact that they approved a fest right after Samarveer’s death is absurd. Many of his students boycotted the event and joined the protest but the college remained oblivious and in fact, the principal and teachers were openly enjoying. They did not even hold a proper condolence meeting for the professor,” he says.

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The ongoing situation threatening the job security of ad hoc professors is impacting aspiring academicians to steer away from academics. “We have realised that the system is trying to suppress intellectual voices and Samar sir’s institutional murder has only brought this situation to the limelight,” the students note.

For them, the notion regarding academics has changed now from what it may have been a couple of decades ago. No job security, an enormous workload, lesser salaries, and an extremely stressful life have become synonymous with academics. They wonder, what would be left of education when professors are chosen on the basis of nepotism and political connections.

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