There are 41 housekeeping workers at Ambedkar University, Delhi, out of which 8 are women. Their shift starts at 7 in the morning and goes on till 4 in the evening. Between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. they clean the offices so that the teachers and administration can begin work on time. From 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. they clean the galleries, toilets, roads, etc. The work involves dusting tables and chairs; sweeping; doing poncha; emptying the toilet dustbin; cleaning the canteen area with acid and scrubbing machines. 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. is lunch, after which they clean all the dirt and mess that collects at the end of a working day at the university. The toilet and canteen are washed thoroughly first thing in the morning but has to be cleaned at least 5-6 more times during the course of the day as the students tend to make a mess of it without a care. Sometimes they are asked to come and work on Sundays as well without any bonus payment for the extra work. But the 8 women housekeeping workers are exempt from this. Their daily wage is Rs. 233 and if they work the entire month it comes to around 7000 per month without any days off. However, the finance department at the university delays their payment every month by almost fifteen days. Every now and then a rumour spreads that the salaries will be increased, which gets everybody excited. But their salaries haven’t increased in the last two and a half years while the rents have gone up substantially (from Rs. 1600 to Rs. 2500 for a single room). Prices of necessary commodities have also increased including the Rs. 40 increase in the prices of whisky and beer that is a daily habit with one of the workers I spoke to. In comparison, the security guards earn less per shift (Rs. 6,600) but are able to earn more on the whole as they can do double shifts. The housekeeping staff does not have that option. One of the workers said that to make ends meet he works occasionally at a small factory owned by a friend of his, which makes electrical lights. This factory employs not more than ten people. He doesn’t work there regularly and only goes when the friend tells him of some available work. On those days he works there for around 4 hours – from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. He additionally repairs phones on Sundays to earn about Rs. 250 a week. In total, he manages to earn around 9-10 thousand a month but is not able to save any money. The housekeeping staff said that in general they have good relationships with other workers in the university (faculty staff help them often by lending money during emergency situations) but still hide from them to escape the extra work they might be asked to do. This unpaid work over and above their own work can be anything from arranging books in the library to shifting water-coolers and other heavy objects from one place to another in the university. They are even asked to serve tea and lunch to teachers and students on occasion. However, they find it difficult to escape the extra work because on not being found, complaints are immediately sent to the supervisor who ensures that the work is done. The workers find the Stri Shakti canteen people particularly oppressive due to their repeated demands for cleaning. The other, smaller canteen owners and the workers have a more friendly relationship as these canteens provide free ‘chai paani’. The workers also said that there have been meetings with the VC to increase their salary but to no end.
Mohan and I have been talking about our course and the problems that we face quite regularly. Quite often we have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that the two of us do not always face the same issues and challenges. We have four courses and each demands at least 2-3 assignments in the course of the semester. Some but not all ask for exams. Some make class participation part of the assessment as well. Some teachers really expect us to work a lot: weekly thought pieces, 1-2 readings for each class and active participation in classes while others just expect us to submit good assignments and come for a few classes. But there is a difference between what they expect and what they wish and desire. Teachers desire active and participating students, this means that the students must read regularly (2-3 hours a day), and be confident of speaking in the class. Some teachers also expect us to listen to them silently without disturbing them and not get distracted by phones and each other. So along with class what the teacher desires is around 35-37 hours of work a week. They probably expect one to do around 20-25 hours. There are two kinds of good assignments: one that gets a good grade and one that is the mark of a good student. Mohan feels that it is easy to get a decent grade but much more difficult to be a good student. In his one and a half semesters in MA he has done two “really good” assignments. These take 8-10 days and he has to read at least 10-12 readings. Out of the 10 days 2-3 days went into writing. Some teacher, along with a long and extended bibliography wants to see a well structured assignment- an introduction, well referenced paragraphs, summaries of the arguments of different authors, etc. But what the teacher expects of a good student is obviously an original argument and not just a summary of different texts. Wikipedia is a prohibited reference for a good student. A friend also told me that in some way or the other teachers also expect decent to good English writing skills. One of our teachers had given him a lower grade because of his problems with English. Unlike DU, Ambedkar University does not give the option of writing exams and assignments in Hindi or any other language. Mohan and I both feel that to do any assignment properly one needs around 10 days at the minimum. However, if Mohan finds it possible to do around two good assignments in one and a half semesters, I produce around 4 of them every semester and get better grades than him as well. Mohan often points out that it is my background in philosophy that helps me score better. I had joined the masters course in history because I felt that my bachelors in philosophy needed to be supported by something more concrete. But the masters in history programme in AUD was not what I had expected. I found out that it was in the bachelors that one gains empirical data and that in the masters it is really about debates in methodology and comparisons of the frameworks employed by different historians. But my philosophy background helped me a lot with my assignments and allowed me to engage much more confidently in classroom discussions as well. While in the beginning I was nervous about getting good grades in a new subject I soon found that getting a B+ was not a very difficult task. Mohan and others would often tease me about this saying “you philosophy wallas have it easy”. But it wasn’t just that. Both my parents had studied history from JNU and I would often take their help in writing assignments. Mohan also takes more time to read the texts assigned for the readings than I do. He finds it difficult to read properly for most assignments. I am not a very fast reader either but due to my family’s academic background in history the language of most assigned texts is familiar. Several of my friends in class have found it difficult to follow some texts and discussions in class properly because they aren’t familiar with theoretical vocabulary used in them. But both of us felt that it is really not possible to do more than half of our assignments properly. Mohan said that the major problem was that a lot of the deadlines overlapped. But it’s not just that. If each assignment requires 10 days and there are four courses each with a minimum of 2 assignments this makes 8-10 assignments per semester which means 80-100 days in just assignments!!! Of course we are told that if we just read for classes our reading for the assignments will be reduced but so many teachers give us assignment topics which have not even begun being discussed in class!! But that is the work a dedicated student strives and struggles to achieve. In times of high pressure, with the assignment due date getting closer, Mohan tries to finish the assignments in 1.5 to 2 days. He does this by relying on wikipedia, Google searches, tutorials from BA, book reviews on the internet. He finished one assignment by just copy pasting sections from a book and summarizing the arguments of another. This took 2 days to finish. Copying handwritten assignments takes longer because it gets really boring. In similar times I have asked friends of mine from JNU to send me their assignments. Otherwise I just read the introduction and conclusion of a book and summarize the major arguments. And make the bibliography look big by adding random Google-searched references. Mohan said that he has to resort to these tactics often as his reading speed is quite slow. I may not do all my assignments “properly” but I have had to plagiarise only twice in the two years of my masters. If I can’t spend ten proper days on an essay I tend to read 2-3 jstor essays, some sections of a book and use some book I had read earlier to quickly cook up an essay. This takes around 2-3 days to do. Mohan complained that even when he gets away with plagiarizing (and other tactics) and gets a good grade the sense of guilt remains. The need to resort to these tactics more often than others (like me) reinforces the identity of being a bad student. In contrast, I don’t feel the guilt very strongly as I end up doing at least half of my assignments properly. Surprisingly when we talked about our experience of our classes our focus was not the syllabus or course but the teacher. We liked a course or disliked it depending upon on whether we liked the teacher or not. We realised that we both generally liked teachers who were not very strict about assignment deadlines. These teachers would not cut grades even if we gave the assignment 1-2 months late. They would also generally not be particular about bunking classes. These teachers often have to absorb the pressures that we feel because we tend to keep pushing their deadlines to finish the work assigned by other teachers who are less “friendly”. But a friendly teacher is not necessarily a good teacher. Different students depending upon their backgrounds and different needs like different teachers and have different expectations from them. These different expectations often also go against each other. This antagonism can be seen in the classes when teachers who talk in a more theoretical language get attendance primarily from students who are, because of their cultural capital, comfortable with that language. The same students may not attend classes of other teachers who spend more time doing topics that they find to be “simpler”. These conversations and others were important for me because before I had them I held a very elite idea of student-hood. Through them I realized that every classroom is segmented into students coming from different backgrounds. These differences in cultural capital etc. result in different experiences of and expectations from student-hood which are more often than not antagonistic.
Being a teacher, particularly at a place like Ambedkar University is one of the most stressful experiences that I have so far gone through. Most teachers at Ambedkar are there, because they love what they are doing, which makes it more difficult. We find it very difficult to see it as a professional commitment that can be switched off at a particular time of the day. It is a matter of feeling responsible for students, wanting to do a good job. In a standard university system, responsibility of what teachers teach does not lie with the teachers, only of how it is taught. This can be very liberating, because the fault of a student not learning may lie somewhere else. In AUD the entire responsibility lies with the teacher who is forever struggling with the idea of what is best for the student versus what can realistically be taught in a semester. For young teachers who have never taught at undergraduate level at colleges, it can lead to a wide gap between the expectations of the teacher and the capabilities of the students. Most of us do try to translate our research into classes, which is very good for us, but not necessarily for the students. Most teachers in personal interactions report a very high level of stress, as they are always ‘preparing’ for a class. We are always thinking of best ways to keep students interested and invested, anticipating questions to which we may have no ready answers. The teacher is expected to be the “know all” that s/he often is not. This is distressing. Students think that they are being evaluated. It is teachers who are evaluated each and every day. It is distressing to realize that that student at the back hasn’t understood what is crystal clear in a teacher’s head. It is distressing to not be able to answer. Teachers are always formulating assignments, correcting them, commenting on them, sometimes on assignments that deserve just to be trashed. They have to run assignments through google because a large number of students copy, quite unimaginatively, from the internet. But it still takes time! You don’t want students to fail, because they will come back to you! But you do want most of them to go with something that they will be able to connect with, at some later stage in their lives! Besides in most universities now teachers are expected to do quite a bit of admin work, which leaves them very little time to invest in teaching and learning. After the first few years, rather than take up new challenges, teachers stick to courses they have been teaching for years. To be promoted, teachers have to show ‘research work’, for which they have little time. Unlike universities abroad where research time and funds are built into the teaching schedule, in India it has to be fought for. All this affects our personal lives. By the time we get appointed Assistant Professor in AUD, we are expected to have finished our PhDs. We are likely to be in our thirties, may even have started families. The starting salary of an Assistant Professor makes for a precarious living in Delhi. Uncertainty about medical claims or pension status leads to further anxiety. Being plugged in 24/7 means that our interactions with our families suffer. Particularly women teachers are constantly struggling with anxiety of being able to be “good” parents while being good teachers.
He is 45 years old and educated upto class 8th. His employer is Rakshak, a security agency. His wages depend on the tenders that the university auctions out to contracting agencies. The terms of the tender may change from year to year. He works 8-hour shifts from 6am till 2pm, and reaches home at 3:30 and earns Rs. 6500-7000 depending on whether he takes on extra shifts. Before this he was working in Delhi University, earning 7000, but he also had PF and ESI. For this he had to work 12-hour shifts. The job ended when the new tender required a complete overhaul of guards and their replacement. He recalled that while he was in DU, the administration prohibited guards from sitting while on the job and removed all the chairs. We spoke to Manoj a few days after the teachers at AUD had held a public meeting addressing the problems they face with contractualization. When asked about the teachers’ struggle, he said that he didn’t know what they were doing. He said it would be good if they did talk to students, teachers and security guards too because the problems do not seem very different, especially that of contractualization. He said that all the support staff were temporary and had no security or benefits whatsoever. They are also hired by the university but through a contracting agency. So although the problems they face are faced inside the university, formally they can’t make complaints to the university. He thought that students, teachers and the support staff should try to communicate and struggle together. But he added that it is very difficult since there are “people you cannot trust because they will report to the malik”. He also added that BJP and Congress are really the same. He had heard Modi say- anyone, even a chaiwala, can be prime minister, but he feels that Modi is not really doing anything either. He can do whatever he wants since he has no opposition. He is a good speaker but all his talk doesn’t change things for the poor, who are still poor even after he has been in power for so long
These are two reports from teachers at AUD, recounting the experience of the teaching process in terms of classroom work, administrative work and the gendered nature of the job as well as the intervention of the AUD Faculty Association (AUDFA).
WORKING IN AUD
1. Sumedha is a permanent teacher who has been in AUD for over 4 years, having taught for 5 years before that, in a DU college and a university. Unlike DU, the department has to teach from BA to PHD. Harish has been an Associate Professor here for a number of years, having taught elsewhere as well. While in other universities the work load is 8 credits per year and 4 per semester, in AUD they are expected to teach two four-credit courses each semester.
2. Beyond classes, there is research, class preparation and other administrative work. Research supervision cannot be precisely calculated in terms of time. Some students require extra attention and out-of-class interaction. Quantitative calculations of all these aspects of work are very difficult, even though they are a large part of the workload. She finds an instrumental, ‘black and white’ calculation of workload by the university a problem, as it cannot include these aspects.
3. Technology also means that work doesn’t shut down when she gets home. She does much of her work when her daughter goes to sleep (such as reading, mailing etc.). Work is never-ending; it only stops when she goes to sleep.
4. Sumedha finds it very difficult to do her own research as it is seen as the individual’s own headache, and not made part of routine administrative processes by the university. Because of the time and effort it takes, the freedom to publish along with teaching and supervision work is not there.
5. She has been involved in a research project and wanted to take leave to carry out field work, but almost regretted undertaking the work because of administrative and her colleagues’ reactions. There is a false ‘bureaucratic mentality’ that research is done in one’s free time (weekends, holidays etc.), and it took her a month to get leave, leading to some bitterness as well.
1. Sumedha is also part of AUD Faculty Association (AUDFA), which has raised issues of workload and benefits like pensions for the teachers, and issues regarding temporary teachers. Ad hoc and temporary teachers can be and are part of AUDFA. For the past year, not many ad hocs are willing to be part of AUDFA, because of discouragement from the authority.
2. Harish points out that the time spent in administrative coordinating committees does not count in their teaching time and the position of ‘Coordinator’ is a non-statuary position, carrying no value outside AUD. This work load makes promotion difficult since criteria include publications and ‘being proactive’ in the institution. AUDFA and the administration reached an agreement to factor administrative responsibilities into work hours, yet this was done without a reduction of teaching hours.
3. Harish relates how the university is organized top down, with School deans rather than Department heads (each School having some departments). There are many posts within each of them such as program coordinators, the student faculty committee etc but decisions still rest with the School Dean. Given AUDFA efforts for greater involvement of teachers in the decision making process, the administration supports representation via nomination whereas AUDFA supports elections from within the Association.
4. Harish also points out that AUDFA has been struggling to moderate teacher workload and for recognition of class preparation time. The expectation is that a teacher is in a position to deliver a lecture without preparation. This leads to narrow overspecialization so that one can easily lecture on a chosen niche area.
5. The administration has agreed that two hours of preparatory time be allotted for every hour of class. Insisting that that AUD is equally a research facility as a teaching institution AUDFA demands that 12 contiguous hours be provided per week for the faculty to fulfill their academic research requirements.
STUDENTS, TEACHERS AND CLASS DYNAMICS
1. She has taught in both annual and semester modes, and found more time to teach and learn in the annual mode. The semester is much tighter in that there is less leeway that she can give to students; and less scope to help struggling students in such a short period of time.
2. New forms of knowledge and ideas come very fast, and there is not much time to explain them. Ultimately those who are interested will read up and others will not. The semester does not give time to mentor a student. So those who have advantages already can do better on their own.
3. AUD pedagogy and structures sometimes hinder students from weaker backgrounds. For example, a couple of her students left because of language problems. In one semester, she had said that if a student has a problem with English, she can explain in Hindi as well. A Hindi background student mailed her asking for extra help, but also asking her not to tell the rest of the class. The student dropped out after the first semester.
4. With four courses per semester, the number of assignments also becomes a problem. Factoring in other elements, like the travel time, and lack of facilities, these demands of work from students affect learning and performance adversely. In one course, she gave three rather than four assignments, and felt the students did much better. A minimum three assignments/exams is required as no assessment can be over 40 percent.
5. Her expectations of the job are not 100 percent fulfilled, but somewhere in the middle. It fluctuates from semester to semester and in different courses. In some courses, she gets what she wanted out of the job and some seem disastrous. She gets satisfaction and pride in her work when students do well, not the privileged students, but those who come from different parts of the country. They have to struggle more, with lack of facilities like hostels.
6. She feels a difference in how students from different backgrounds relate to teachers. Some hesitate more to come and talk, while others do not. As a teacher, being a person of authority, many students are hesitant to approach her, especially those coming from a ‘peripheral’ area.
7. She feels that there are different situations of students who are indifferent or unreceptive to the course. While considering some of them lazy, there are some who later approach her and tell her that they couldn’t come because of a particular problem, such as having to work and earn, which she understands. Students often not do well or attend classes because of legitimate reasons, there needs to be communication from both sides to resolve these problems.
8. Feedback forms are helpful to her in terms of changing readings and teaching methods. She does not know how effective the Student Faculty Committee is. It often becomes a nitpicking session. No common ground is reached in understanding what went wrong. A general meeting was organized once but not everyone comes to them. So the question of how to reach out to everyone is not resolved.
WORK, GENDER AND PARENTHOOD
1. Balancing work with parenting structures everyday life. While her partner also equally shares the household and parenting burden, he does not have as many responsibilities in the domestic space. She has to put in more (100 percent) and he is able to put in a little less than that. So teaching work is very different for a female parent who has additional responsibilities.
2. People see these responsibilities of a mother-teacher as an ‘essential part of her nature’, as she witnessed before becoming a parent herself with a colleague in her earlier university. Her colleague would leave meetings early to pick up her child, and many people would ‘smile knowingly’ that a female naturally has these responsibilities, without recognizing the balancing work it entails. She often misses AUDFA meetings because she would prefer to be with her daughter, who is too small to be left on her own.
3. There is no concept of leisure left anymore, because work is a constant presence. She reads non academic books for leisure, but gets the chance to do so mainly while on vacations, travelling or visiting relatives. Leisure is possible in this way only when she is out of Delhi.
4. She sees these problems for female research students in choosing their topic. She advises them at the outset to choose a field where they will be comfortable working, even though they might ideally prefer some other topic.
5. This need to balance work and the lesser degree of freedom/participation is considered a ‘personal problem’, rather than socially structured. If a student cannot come for a class/event which is scheduled late because she has to travel far, it is considered her own issue rather than gendered and structural. To ease their work conditions, some teachers had wanted a crèche in the university, but the university did not implement this, again indicating that the problem must be managed individually rather than collectively/socially.
In October 2014, tenants in Christian Colony in DU’s North Campus refused to pay rent until landlords agree to give rent receipts. They said that this would prove how rents varied in the same are. But when it was underway it was clear the strike wasn’t just about costs. The colony has around 150 buildings controlled/owned by a handful of builders. Rooms are 6×6 feet to 6×8 feet. No light. Little air. Very few have attached bathrooms; usually 10 rooms share one bathroom. The water is ‘toxic’. Electricity bills are always much higher than they should be because of faulty meters. The rent: Rs. 2000-4500. There aren’t any rent agreements and older tenants generally pay less. Most of the tenants are students of DU while others are civil service aspirants studying at coaching institutes. Many are from the Northeast and from Bihar – the landlords often refer to them as ‘Chinki’ and ‘Bihari’. Sachit, Christian and an ST, worked for a year in Idea cellular before he came here to prepare for competitive exams. He though he would manage from his savings. But he is completely dependent on his parents now. He shares a Rs. 6000 room and spends Rs 2500 on food. Coaching eats up most of his money. Naresh (M.Phil, Hindi) is from a BPL family. He pays Rs. 2000 as rent (roommate pays the same) and Rs.3000 for food. He affords all this because of a fellowship. He hopes to save money to help his family. He manages, but many others, he says, have to choose between rent and food. Having to pay rent on top of tuition makes attending university difficult for many, even if one is willing to live in such conditions. Quite a joke: You have to get a degree, spending years doing something you usually don’t like to do, so as to work more. You work so that the university can produce knowledge and disciplined workers, claim its profits, and in the meanwhile pay the landlord too! Why must we pay in order to work for someone else, and in order to learn to work for someone else? Sometimes this question did arise during the strike. Their immediate demand was for rent receipts and for standardization of rent, but the protesters were also asserting their Right to Accommodation. It is important to see what this demand means, even if it wasn’t pursued eventually. These students were asserting that by virtue of being in the university, they deserve full and free housing. Why should we pay or deal with landlords, or put up with poor living conditions? We are fulfilling a social need – we are producing knowledge and learning to be workers. Of course, as with other workers, no point asking for rights! They have to be taken! Slowly more and more started to discuss the problems with high and varying rents, discrepancies in electricity bills, unclean surroundings. They organized an informal meeting, “Chai pe Charcha” near JNU to assess the breadth of the issue. They did their research. They learnt that the area is an Archeological Survey of India site, and so much construction is banned here. They found out which buildings were under which broker/builder and did calculations about their incomes – 19 lakh to 20 crore annually was there estimate. They knew that resistance to giving rent receipts comes from landlords wanting to hide taxable income. They discovered that Delhi has a (defunct) Rent Control Act, which if implemented would lower the rents of their shabby rooms to Rs. 500. They organized and spoke to all students in the colony about the rent strike, which eventually started with a 7-day hungerstrike in front of the colony. The demands: (1) Implement the Rent Control Act and regularize the colony; (2) Mandatory issuing of rent receipts; (3) Better electricity, water and sanitation facilities; and (4) the rent was to be fixed after assessment by a Tribunal under the rent control act. After a lot of stalling the landlords conceded to some demands. They reduced and fixed the rents of rooms, and agreed to give rent receipts. This was indeed a victory for the tenants. The inclusion of the rent control in the list of demands had an interesting consequence. The students received support from street vendors of Patel Chest, who shared with the tenants the problem of regularization of shops. Clearly, pitching the struggle (possibly inadvertently) in a way that aligned it with that of the wider population increases pressure on the powers that be. What is more, it creates the potential for widening the scope of both struggles. But this struggle seems to be at an end. The rent reduction put an end to the demand for rent control and right to accommodation. Later, some students reported not getting a rent receipt. What could have been done to push the struggle beyond the colony or beyond the limits of rent reduction? Where did the broader demands of rent control and right to accommodation go? What about the network formed with the street vendors and non-student residents? We also need to ask how such struggles can be organized in other areas