Samarveer Singh Committed Suicide

Plight of DU Ad-Hoc Teachers

Johanna Deeksha

Samarveer Singh often dreamt of France. Rusham Sharma, who was Singh’s student at Hindu College, Delhi, recounted that Singh would speak in class of sitting in cafes in the country, as philosophers like Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir once did, and of imagining what their lives might have been like. Singh also loved making his students laugh. But, Sharma said, Singh was at his most spirited when he spoke about films and art.

KeshaviSethi, another of Singh’s students at the college, which is affiliated to Delhi University, said her fondest memory of Singh was of a time when he screened the film 12 Angry Men to teach his students about critical thinking. Like Sharma, Sethi too recounted that every time there was a discussion in the class about films, Singh grew excited and animated. But otherwise, the students observed that he was largely a reserved person and that it always seemed like his mind was preoccupied.

The students were both eagerly looking forward to a film and art appreciation course that Singh was teaching in January 2023. “Because that is where his heart seemed to be”, Sharma said. But Singh never taught that course. He missed his first few classes because he was occupied with administrative work, the students recalled. And then in February 2023, Singh was arbitrarily removed from his post as an assistant professor.

Singh had been hired as an ad-hoc teacher. This meant that unlike permanent faculty, who are eligible for several benefits and whose jobs cannot be terminated arbitrarily, he had to renew his contract every four months. The job was essentially an unstable one because the university could choose not to renew his contract any time it expired. Singh had taught in this capacity at Hindu College’s philosophy department for seven-and-a-half years. During this time, he had attended many interviews at various colleges for permanent positions. Students who knew him recounted that he felt hopeful about eventually securing a position as a permanent staff member at a college. Thus, his removal as an ad-hoc faculty came as a shock to him.

The turbulence in his professional life continued. In April, the college administration invited him to return as a guest lecturer–this was an even less secure arrangement, whereby he would be contracted and paid to teach one-hour classes. A few days later they terminated this engagement as well.

On April 26, Singh was found dead in his flat.

The students said that nobody from their department conveyed this news to them. They learnt of it through a social media post by a teacher from another college.

On the day after his death, Singh’s students and a few of his colleagues organised a condolence meeting at the college. The college’s fest was scheduled for the same day –it went ahead as planned. “The principal and other staffs were dancing at the fest”, Sethi said. “Nobody considered cancelling it despite Samarveer sir’s passing”.

Scroll emailed queries about Singh’s death and the system of ad-hoc appointments to Delhi University–as of publication, the university had not responded.

In the days that followed, Sethi and Sharma learnt more about their professor from his family and former students. When they met his sister a few days later, she recalled that he would text her whenever he had had a great class. Singh’s sister told Sethi that he had planned to invite his parents from Rajasthan to Delhi to visit him, and that he had intended to buy an air conditioner for his home before they arrived.

The students wondered whether he had grown withdrawn as a result of his professional instability.

Singh’s suicide rekindled conversations around ad-hoc teacher appointments at Delhi University.

The system was devised in 2007 as a plan to cope with teacher shortages at the university. According to a resolution passed that year by the university’s academic council, ad-hoc teachers were permitted to be appointed for a period of between one and four months at the rank of assistant professors.

Teachers were to be appointed to these positions only in situations where there was a “sudden, unexpected and short vacancy” due to reasons such as a permanent teacher’s illness or death.

According to the resolution, if the vacancy remained open for more than four months, it could be filled “on a temporary basis”.

Although it sounds similar, a temporary appointment is fundamentally different from an ad-hoc one. While under the 2007 resolution, ad-hoc teachers have fixed contracts of four months, temporary teachers can be hired for longer durations. More significantly, during the terms of their contracts, temporary teachers are entitled to benefits such as earned leave, though they do not have other benefits that permanent teachers get, like medical insurance, dearness allowance and provident funds.

On the other hand, ad-hoc teachers have no benefits, are only allowed one day of earned leave and one day of half-pay leave every month. In effect, temporary teachers have less secure positions than permanent teachers, but more secure than ad-hoc faculty, who receive no benefits at all.

But although university rules state that when a vacancy arises for longer than four months, teachers have to be appointed at least as temporary faculty, the university currently has 4,500 ad-hoc teachers. Many, like Singh, spend years renewing their contracts every four months. They are typically given a day’s break at the end of each contract before being asked to sign new ones and resume their work. While Singh worked for more than seven years under these conditions, other teachers have spent as much as 15 and 20 years as ad-hoc faculty.

Over the past two years, ad-hoc teachers have been facing a new problem–the university has been filling up vacancies with permanent faculty; but long-time ad-hoc teachers argue that they have been overlooked in favour of less qualified and experienced candidates.

Vishal Pandey, who has been an ad-hoc teacher of commerce for 12 years, argued that the system of appointments is flawed because it gives no weightage to teachers’ experience. Rather, candidates are assigned points based on qualifications and publications, and if they attain a minimum of 50 points, they are cleared to a final interview round.

Rajesh Jha, a member of Academics for Action and Development and Delhi Teachers’ Association, noted that as a result of these processes, around 70% of ad-hoc teachers had been “displaced”–that is, they had lost their positions.

Pandey said, “I’m 44. It is too late to change my profession too. But I still have some hope in the judiciary.”
KavithaBedi, an ad-hoc teacher who asked to be identified by a pseudonym for this story, said she had been displaced from her position after ten years. “A decade should mean something, right?” she said.

After she lost her work as an ad-hoc teacher, Bedi tried to find other opportunities. Her only option was to take up work as a guest lecturer. Guest lecturers are paid on an hourly basis

In May 2023, SK Sagar, the teacher-in-charge of the zoology department at Swami Shraddhanand College, resigned from that position in support of ad-hoc teachers, who he felt were being poorly treated. “They have been working for so many years and their work is highly appreciated,” he noted in his resignation letter. “They deserved to continue rather than to face displacement from the college where they had been providing their services to the college with utmost dedication.”

In September, the entire department of sociology of Indraprastha College for Women was displaced. The department comprised five ad-hoc teachers who had been working in the department for between three and four years. The five teachers were replaced with eight new permanent ones. Apoorvanand, a professor and public commentator, alleged that the appointed candidates had poorer qualifications, and that the appointments were made under the influence of the RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh. Many displaced teachers made the same allegation.

This followed similar terminations at other colleges, such as Satyawati (Evening) College.

 Sometimes they come to college at 9, and leave at 11.30 pm and be back at 8.30 the next day for classes. And all this without leaves.

The lack of leaves is particularly difficult for women who need maternity leave. In 2020, a survey by the Delhi University Teachers Association of 705 teachers found that 86% of those who had sought maternity leave had been denied it. The problem remains prevalent despite a court ruling in favour of the teachers–in 2020; the Delhi High Court quashed a termination notice issued by Aurobindo Evening College against an ad-hoc teacher who had ceased attending college during the term of her contract because she was pregnant and needed maternity leave.

Ad-hoc teachers have also criticised the appointment in their place of candidates who they see as less qualified.

Over the last five years, the Delhi University Teachers Association has demanded a one-time absorption of ad-hoc teachers as permanent faculty. The union has organised protests that have included marches and letter-writing campaigns, to argue that ad-hoc teachers should be provided with the job security and other benefits available to permanent teachers.

[Johanna Deeksha got her Masters in War and Human Rights Journalism from the University of Lincoln, UK, and has also received training from the Thomson Reuters Foundation on LGBT+ Rights Reporting. She has previously worked with Deccan Chronicle and New Indian Express. Courtesy:]

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Vol 56, No. 26, Dec 24 - 30, 2023