This is for our dignity: Meet ad hoc prof Shabana Azmi who's making history by standing for DUTA President

The Ministry of Education said in Lok Sabha that the number of ad hoc teachers in DU is only 58. On the other hand, DUTA claims that the number of ad hoc teachers is about 4,000
Pic: Edexlive
Pic: Edexlive

As the last date, November 17, for individuals to file nominations for Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) election approaches —  two ad hoc teachers are set to contest the polls for the first time ever. Disappointed with the current DUTA leadership, one of them is eyeing the president's seat of the powerful teachers' body.

Shabana Azmi is an ad hoc teacher of Political Science at the Zakir Husain College in Delhi. In fact, she has been an ad hoc teacher for nearly ten years. With the hope that she can represent the issues of many like her, she will be filing her nomination and will be officially in the running for DUTA President. "I wanted to directly stand for the presidential position because it holds more weight and power. Also, I wanted to send the message far and wide that, so far in the history of DUTA elections, no ad hoc teacher has stood. We once had a lot of faith in DUTA leadership," says Azmi, before adding, "But not anymore."

There are a number of issues that the 4,000-odd ad hoc teachers have been facing for several years now. From not being given various leave benefits to not being fairly remunerated for their efforts. But all of it boils down to one thing — the demand to be turned into permanent teachers from ad hoc teachers. Azmi says that she personally knows ad hoc teachers who have spent their entire careers in the hope of being made permanent staff but are nearing retirement. 

"Many have also been afraid to speak up out of the fear of job insecurity. There haven't even been interviews for permanent positions for the last few years," she adds. How many such ad hoc teachers are we talking about? That question, by itself, is mired in contradictions and depends on who you're asking. The Minister for Education has told the Lok Sabha that the number of ad hoc teachers in DU stood at a paltry 58, a bit of arithmetic that was strongly opposed by DUTA in August. They, of course, maintained that the number of ad hoc teachers stood at about 4,000 while the permanent faculty numbers stood at around 6,000.

Have the authorities tried to address the issue?
Ad hoc teachers are appointed for a period of 120 days. After their contract expires, it is renewed post a day’s break. This process technically goes on loop until permanent employees are appointed. The teachers had gone on an intense protest in 2019 for one-time absorption of ad hoc teachers into the permanent faculty posts, led by DUTA. This resulted in a decision between the UGC (then MHRD) and the DU that all permanent posts would be filled soon and the norms for shortlisting candidates for interviews for assistant professor appointments would be tweaked in favour of ad hoc teachers by giving greater weightage to their work experience.

"The DUTA leadership hasn't pressured the administration any further to implement this. Sometime after the protest, COVID hit and some ad hoc teachers even lost their lives. It has almost been two years since that protest now," Azmi says. She added that the leadership's complaints of technical issues impeding the implementation of various administrative promises made no sense, "That is not their job. They need to pressurise the administration. We also hope to make DUTA a more democratic body." 

This one's for their dignity
When asked if she is afraid of losing her job, Azmi says, "Someone had to take a stand. I don't know what is going to happen to me but I have worked hard in the same college for ten years, my students have gone on to work in good positions — this is for our dignity now." Azmi claims to have garnered a great deal of support from other ad hoc teachers who she says are afraid to speak out in support of her in public but assure her that their support would be displayed at the ballot box. However, she does add that her decision to stand for elections is also more symbolic. Another ad hoc teacher, Sant Prakash, would be standing for the polls for a seat in DUTA's Executive Council. The elections are scheduled to be held on November 26.

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