Life as an ‘ad hoc’

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Teachers protesting under the banner of DUTA inside the office of Vice Chancellor's office at Delhi University in New Delhi on Wednesday. EXPRESS PHOTO BY PRAVEEN KHANNA 04 12 2019.

Written by Vishal Deo

The word ‘ad hoc’ itself may not have a negative connotation, but the moment it is used to define the identity of a person, it becomes a synonym for marginalisation and humiliation. Such a marginalised class exists in one of India’s premier universities, Delhi University. Around 5,000 teachers — more than 50 per cent of the teaching fraternity in DU — are fighting for a way out of this marginalisation.

Over several years of our ad hocism, we have seen humiliation in various forms, and on various platforms. Talking about the absence of routine provisions such as medical benefits and salary increments will sound like complaining about the non-existence of utopia in a system which denies even basic human rights like maternity leaves and medical leaves. Women ad hoc teachers facing loss of job over maternity is a regular phenomenon.

More than losing life to illness, ad hoc teachers fear losing their jobs over illness. A few months ago, a colleague was battling for life after an accident. When we went to see him, his wife told us that after remaining unconscious for around 48 hours, he couldn’t recognise her but kept repeating “college jaana hai, letter lena hai (have to go to college, take the letter)”. He was referring to the ‘appointment letter’ that we get, if lucky, after a one-day break post every 120 days of our ad hoc service.

According to a University ordinance of 2007, “ad hoc appointments shall only be made for a period of more than one month and up to four months”. While the rules say ad hoc appointments are to be made only in extra-ordinary situations — such as “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” — the fact is, ad hoc appointments are more the norm, with some working as ad hoc against the same vacancies for 15 to 20 years. For the sake of technical “legitimacy” to the bizarre system, a working day break is given between consecutive appointments, after which the ad hoc teacher collects a new letter that enables her/him to continue working, a thin thread by which we hang on to.

For the last few years, we have spent most of our summer and winter vacations on the streets fighting to save our jobs. Every year comes a new assault, sometimes from the government, sometimes from the university administration. It goes unsaid that only a mind free of fear and uncertainties can afford to be innovative and resourceful.

I am very fortunate to be associated with a college where we are allowed to contest elections to staff council committees, a provision that came into existence only last year. This was the result of a strong collective resolve shown by the members of our staff association and staff council to bring inclusiveness into our college’s academic and corporate life. However, ad hoc colleagues in most other colleges work in various committees without any formal recognition. Their views and their contributions are also considered ‘ad hoc’. Even if we are formally recognised members of the committees, when it comes to any financial matter, our signatures aren’t enough to get the bills passed through the accounts section. A counter signature by a permanent colleague becomes mandatory to bring “legitimacy” to our hard work.

Public perception focuses less on the irregularities and failures on the part of the administration and promotes the narrative that the ad hoc teachers are ad hoc because of their ‘incompetency’. This is no different from the flawed perception that the marginalised sections of society are to be blamed for their socio-economic state or that rape victims are to be blamed for bringing it on themselves.

Once I went to a friend’s wedding where I was introduced to the groom’s father as an Assistant Professor. Before asking for my name, the person asked if I was ad hoc or permanent. On learning of my status, his tone changed to that of pity and he soon lost interest in me. So, even in a high-voltage marriage party, I was quickly reminded of the fact that I belonged to a marginalised class of teachers.

I teach statistics and before shifting to academics, I worked as a data analyst in a multinational company. I have chosen teaching as a profession out of passion and not merely for a livelihood. It has been nine years since I started teaching. Solidarity and love given by our students in times of crises provide us with the strength to carry on despite the indifference shown by successive governments, the UGC and the University administration in ensuring justice.

The writer teaches in the Department of Statistics, Ramjas College, University of Delhi