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Academic Orphans: Caste And Recruitment In Delhi University

Favouritism, political connections and sheer luck are the bane of marginalised candidates seeking permanent teaching positions in DU colleges.

Delhi University
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On April 26, 2023, Samarveer Singh died by suicide. His death made it to newspaper headlines as he was a teacher of philosophy albeit ad hoc at the prestigious Hindu College affiliated with Delhi University (DU), recognised as an Institution of Eminence. Gradually, the news filtered out—how he was rendered jobless after interviews were held for permanent positions, his six-year-long teaching experience notwithstanding. A few protests happened and then it was business as usual—the college celebrated its annual fest a few days after his unfortunate death.

Various reports cite that more than fifty per cent of the teachers in DU belong to the ad hoc or even worse—the ‘guest faculty’ category. They work under conditions of extreme precarity, subject to multiple forms of humiliation and exploitation. Ironically, the teachers’ movement is strong in DU and such issues are highlighted, but on the flip side, ad hoc and guest faculties are used as mere foot soldiers by various political ideologies. It is a form of ‘academic slavery’ wherein the institutions exploit the intellectual and physical labour of the candidate while dangling the carrot of permanent appointment.

For the recruitment of teachers, the state has created a roster system which will streamline the intake of Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Caste (OBC) teachers, which is seldom followed. In order to ensure that the roster is implemented, the appointment of an SC/ST/OBC Liaison Officer is mandatory in all educational institutions. In practice, these positions are rarely taken seriously by the authorities as they tamper with the roster to recruit their own candidates. To illustrate, an SC post will be converted to the category of ‘Unreserved’ or even ‘Economically Weaker Section’ (EWS) without any justification. Such anomalies come to light through RTIs or if the concerned candidate goes to court. Social identities are reflected in multiple ways. The National Eligibility Test (NET) certificate for lecturership issued by the University Grants Commission (UGC) mentions the caste category of the candidate. This implies that the individual who has the required ‘merit’ to make it into the unreserved category will be included only in the reserved category. The unreserved category is for everyone who has the desired scores, and it is erroneous to think that SC/ST /OBCs are outside its ambit. These measures are followed often for permanent appointments although here too, the option of ‘Not Found Suitable’ (NFS) is resorted to if a particular candidate does not make an appearance. It is never applied to applicants in the unreserved category.

In the ad hoc system, there was some possibility of the roster being followed. When the ad hoc list is prepared, there are separate lists for unreserved, SC/ST/OBC candidates even if the latter make it to the general merit list. This list becomes the benchmark for future recruitment across university colleges and departments. Such niceties are bypassed in the guest system which operates on the mutual goodwill between the different stakeholders—supervisors, colleges, political affiliations, heads of departments and the social capital of the candidates. These parameters decide the fate of the ‘job seeker’ despite him/her fulfilling all the required academic criteria.

Networking-Jugaad

In recent years, the UGC has come up with various measures to streamline academic performance through the Academic Performance Indicators (APIs) on which basis teachers are recruited. Often, candidates take recourse to predatory publishers to obtain adequate APIs for teaching. Students are also cautious about which courses to opt for, right from their masters program, which research topics which will easily fetch them a job, which supervisors to work with and who has more political leverage rather than academic parameters. SC/ST/OBC students are no exception as they are also competing in the same market.

When universities/colleges put forth advertisements for ad hoc/guest faculty recruitments, they seldom clarify the roster position. Unless and until the liaison officer or the SC/ST/OBC Observer consciously raises these issues, no one takes cognizance of it. The Observer’s position is made mandatory by the UGC but again it depends on the goodwill of the institution concerned. Unfortunately, many Observers accept the diktats of the dominant political/social ideologies for their personal interests.

Despite the various checks and balances in place to ensure a level playing field, especially for marginalised groups, increasingly, the norms are being bypassed to favor particular political ideologies. The candidates are grouped as per their social identity and generally, the panel is aware of the caste location of the candidate. Often, they are asked about their sub-caste identity also. Hence, caste prejudices are integral to the interview process. The questions during the interview process are seldom academic in nature—they range from the identity of the supervisor, specific caste category, regional language, religious identity, papers taught and years of experience. The candidates are dismissed within one or two minutes. They are often asked ‘General Knowledge’ questions rather than their research, papers taught etc. Their social media activities—including who is liking/commenting/forwarding on whose social media posts and valorising certain ideologies—are also scanned and shared informally with the board to ensure that ‘problematic’ candidates are not selected. This happens more with candidates from reserved categories who exhibit an independent attitude. All these questions help to locate the candidate in a specific paradigm—if the supervisor shares a common ideology, if the publications glorify a particular school of thought etc, for this would help to weed out ‘andolan jeevis’

To put it succinctly, ‘hamara banda kaun hai’ i.e. ‘who is our person’ or who believes in our ideology’? The candidates are pre-decided and even ad hoc teachers including SC/ST/OBCs who have taught for more than a decade are mercilessly shunted out. This reflects the dubious nature of ‘merit’. If a teacher was not ‘suitable’, how did he/she work for so many years in the institution and suddenly have their ‘merit’ go unrecognised? The time and effort they spent in institution-building is seen as worthless. Apparently, Samarveer taught for six years and one fine day, a group of experts decided that he was ‘unsuitable’. In Kirorimal College, (again affiliated to Delhi University), students of political science protested the ouster of their teacher who had worked for more than a decade.

It is difficult to pierce the prevailing mindset which is highly ‘anti-intellectual’. In any society, pedagogy and teaching is taken very seriously as these have the potential to usher in social emancipation. When constitutionally mandated norms are sacrificed at the altar of political expediency, it would lead to the gradual demise of public institutions. The socially and economically marginalised students can only afford to seek education in public universities, and the shoddy recruitment processes do not inspire any confidence that academic standards will be maintained. The future of Indian academia is really at the crossroads caught between unsavoury recruitment practices and ensuring social justice.

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(Views expressed in this article are personal)

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