A bombshell dropped by the University Grants Commission (UGC) on May 10th–the Gazette Notification 2016–has triggered a massive teachers’ rebellion at Delhi University (DU). When the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) leadership gave a call for a boycott of the evaluation process, May 24th onwards, teachers responded with uncommon readiness and near unanimity. Evaluation centres remain deserted. Thousands of teachers thronged the Sriram College of Commerce (SRCC) auditorium and jammed the Ring Road and the streets of DU in the mid-day heat of May 28th. Close to 5,000 teachers marched from Mandi House to Parliament Street this afternoon, May 30th.
The shock, anger and will to fight are palpable, the message from teachers unequivocally Marcusian: ‘No! This is not acceptable’: the Notification must be given an immediate burial because if it survives it shall turn the field of Higher Education in India into a graveyard, transforming universities into machines, massacring jobs instead of making appointments permanent, turning students, and those who remain employed, into nuts, bolts and morons with gloomy futures, hurting us all, especially SCs, STs, OBCs and women, hurting friends and families, hurting society.
Among the key provisions in the Notification is the alarming stipulation increasing teaching workload by roughly 50%. This new norm, insanely high and impossible to achieve by any credible standards, would stun academics and damn the quality of Higher Education anywhere. One immediate implication will be a commensurate downsizing of the teaching workforce. Coming, as this Notification does, in the wake of a drastic 55% reduction in the budget allocation for the UGC, the spectre of retrenchment on an unprecedented scale is frightening and real. In DU itself, over 4000 vacancies might be decimated, the worst to be hit being colleagues who have been working as ‘ad-hoc’ or ‘guest’ faculty.
Further, the mandatory use of the new workload norms for calculating the number of points collected by teachers under the widely criticised Academic Performance Indicator (API) system that has come to govern promotions, will only intensify wasteful wars over scores even as promotions become in fact, increasingly unattainable for teachers. The requirement that research articles must be exclusively published in a list of UGC-approved journals, or in books published by UGC-approved publishers for them to be considered for API purposes, will simply worsen the situation. All of this, together with the provision for an ill conceived student feedback process with grave implications for teachers and teaching, shall be enough to shatter people’s lives and public-funded Higher Education in India.
This Notification must go, but many of us have come together to say something else as well, to tell all those who have usurped control over our lives, that we are fed up of being vilified and abused, insulted and humiliated, excluded and terrorized, ‘ad-hoc’ and ‘guest’, monitored, alienated, traumatized, insecure, anxious, stressed out and depressed, slaves to unknown masters, to arbitrariness, unreason and academic callousness.
We have come together to say that we are sick and tired of being knocked about, pushed around and forced to take Semester for breakfast, Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) for lunch, Three Year Undergraduate Programme (TYUP) for a snack, Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) for supper and Gazette Notification as nightcap; sick and tired of being told to do this today and that tomorrow, left fumbling, lost, confused, not knowing whether we are coming or going or what needs to be done; sick and tired of being forced to dance to the ruckus being made in the name of ‘academic reform’ by people who should have nothing to do with academics because all they can really do is to demean the intellect and disgrace the life of the mind, to degrade and hitch public institutions of Higher Learning to the logic of commodification, and, in the current conjuncture, to that of Hindu communalism as well, with appeals to patriotism and Indian nationalism providing cover to both.
Year in and year out, without a break since 2009-10, we have not been allowed to do what we are meant to do: we have not been allowed to work. Work that is our livelihood and duty, work that allows for sociability and is, very often, sheer joy and passion, work that can humanize and give meaning to our lives even as each lecture or discussion takes everything out of us, has been relentlessly disturbed.
Interrupted by the hurried and thoughtless imposition of change after structural change—semesterisation in 2010-11, the FYUP in 2013, the TYUP in 2014 and mother of them all, the CBCS in 2015, our work has been robbed again and again of meaning and substance; our disciplines have been attacked, syllabi distorted; essays have been exiled and books continue being trashed as ‘sentiment’ trumps truth and academic worth; the general terms and conditions of our work have been under siege, casualisation rampant, promotions obstructed by the introduction of the insidious API, our places of work and workplace relations disrupted and ruptured.
We have seen our democratic rights and our union attacked, traditions of debate, discussion and participatory decision making consciously undermined, colleges and our university blanketed with fear and turned into prisons, our classrooms, corridors, streets and open spaces which draw light and life from fearless collective control and common use, sought to be stolen from us and twisted out of recognition.
It is truly remarkable that in spite of this sustained onslaught, and in the face of continuing crimes against Higher Education, we are still employed or hopeful of being employed, that teaching, in its true sense, is still possible, that our colleges are still colleges, and Delhi University is not yet a machine.
It is equally, if not even more remarkable that the main reason for this incredible survival is the ‘Great Refusal’ by large numbers of teachers and students of Delhi University to conform and become mere cogs in a wheel; their determination to keep issues concerning budget cuts, employment relations and service conditions alive; their determination to remain, in small ways and big, scholars and intellectuals committed to academic rigour and integrity in the pursuit of knowledge and truth; their determination to read, write, think and speak about matters of consequence without fear of community, ‘hurt sentiments’ and Gods; their determination in the face of extreme adversity, to try and function as equals in controlling their work and running their workplaces democratically; their desire finally, to treat human beings as ‘minds… made up of stardust’, to teach as many people as possible to think freely, critically, analytically and independently, encouraging them to critique received wisdom, prejudice and irrationality, the world as it is, in the hope of creating a future in which liberty and human freedoms might be grounded in citizenship based on substantive equality.
It is for us now, friends and comrades of Delhi University, to draw inspiration from this ‘Great Refusal’, from histories of past struggles, from the ongoing student-teacher struggle at JNU as also from struggles on other university campuses, and turn this moment of severe crisis into an opportunity. Let us, as we move to bury Gazette Notification 2016, also build radical solidarities with many more struggles for rights and justice, take back our universities, democratize them, ensure secure employment, promotions and dignified service conditions for all, and in as many other ways as possible, ‘demand the impossible’.
If the current spontaneous rebelliousness among teachers is anything to go by, demanding the impossible and reaching for the sky at this moment, far from being far-fetched, might in fact signify the true ‘realist’ in each one of us!
Some of the photographs are by Trina Shankar