Junked as ‘Surplus’, Teachers Becoming Tillers in Kashmir

“After taking 15-years of service from me, the government has now categorized me as ‘surplus candidate’ and discarded me as deadwood of the department.”

 By Bisma Bhat

EVERY morning, Arshid Ahmad, a 40-year-old contractual college lecturer readies himself not for his routine classroom teaching session but to work in one of the relative’s land as a farm labourer.

Soon after the Jammu and Kashmir lost its special status on August 5, 2019, Arshid was disowned by the higher education department. Sans job and salary, he was forced to do land tilling to feed his family.

Hailing from south Kashmir’s Kulgam district, Arshid—a post-graduate in Political Science and National Eligibility Test (NET) qualifier—was appointed as a contractual lecturer in 2004 and since then he has been serving the higher education department with a hope that his services would be regularized one day.

“For the first 10 years of my career, I was solely running the department of Political Science,” Arshid said. “I was going out of my way to serve the department.”

However, after August last year, the department told him that they do not need his services anymore.

“After taking 15-years of services from me, the government has now categorized me as ‘surplus candidate’ and discarded me as deadwood of the department,” Arshid rued, adding that he was left with no option other than to work as a tiller to support his family.

“School fee of my children is pending since March because I’ve not received my pending salary. What will I feed my family, if I won’t work as a tiller now,” he lamented.

Not eligible for any other job

Arshid is among the 500 senior-most college contractual lecturers who’ve served the department for nearly two decades and are not eligible for any other job, as they’ve crossed the upper age limit.

After giving their youth to the department, the government has issued an order categorizing them into “surplus candidates”. The order has come as a big blow for these teachers awaiting regularization since years now.

Since 1995, Dr. Fayaz Wani, a senior-most college contractual lecturer, has already served the Arabic Department for 25 years.

Hailing from Magam area of district Budgam, 52-year-old Wani is currently posted at Government Degree College Kansahab. Like others in his contractual teaching camp, he’s also without work and salary since August last year.

“In 2019, when the valley was witnessing an unprecedented situation, my college authorities made an unjustified transfer and brought another faculty at my place and told me that you’re no more needed here. Since then I’m running from pillar to post to get justice,” stressed Wani, who has a doctorate degree in Arabic.

What’s worrying Wani is that he’s not eligible for any other job in a government department as he has crossed the age limit.

“My forms in Public Service Commission (PSC) have been rejected many times due to the fact that I’m over-aged,” Wani rued.

“Where will I go at this stage of my life? At my home, my daughters are waiting for their wedlock but I’ve nothing to give them. I’m empty-handed. I’m the most unfortunate father who can’t afford to marry off his daughters.”

For living, the doctor has become a tiller, but people feel hesitant to hire a ‘scholar labourer’.

“They feel ashamed of seeing a Ph.D. working as a labourer in their fields,” Wani continued. “Last time, while working in one of the fields in my village, I got to know it was owned by one of my students. Both of us were embarrassed to face each other that day. He did not allow me to work further in his field.”

Violation of UGC Guidelines

The regulations which are formulated by the University Grants Commission (UGC) direct that it should be ensured that a minimum of one teacher is available for every 10 students (1:10) at the different postgraduate departments pursuing their degrees in fields like Science as well as Media and Mass Communication studies.

Also, one teacher for every 15 students (1:15) should be available in fields like Commerce and Management, Social Sciences, and Humanities. In addition to this, for the undergraduate courses, one teacher should be available for every 25 students.

However, the prevalent ratio for the Social Science stream is 1:30, whereas for that of Science is 1:25.

“The government has shown us as ‘surplus’, implying they’ve enough faculty, when the reality is that colleges across J&K lack teaching staff,” Arshid, the fired contractual lecturer, continued.

“I’ve approached my college principal many times but she said they don’t need me. But the fact is, there’s only one permanent faculty in Political Science department who’s teaching 250 students.”

Knock At High Court

Each year, the Higher Education Department engages lecturers on academic arrangement basis. However, senior-most lecturers face discrimination as they’ve to compete with the new candidates who have degrees from abroad with high merit.

“We’ve been toppers of our time, too, and some of us are even gold medalists,” said another fired lecturer, Lateef Baba.

“Just because the new candidates happen to have more marks than us and degrees from abroad, we experienced lots are being sidelined by the department.”

After getting rejection letters from the PSC and knowing government is not providing any job security to them, the contractual college lecturers said they had no other option than to seek justice from the court.

In 2015, Dr. Fayaz Wani approached the court to challenge the JK government’s special provision act 2010.

In 2010, JK government enacted a policy for ad-hoc, contractual, and consolidated employees who’ve been working in various departments for more than seven years and said that they’ll be regularized against the clear vacancy and post in the government departments.

However, the contractual lecturers working in the education department have been excluded from this policy.

“As per the act we were promised to be regularized but the government excluded us, which I challenged in the court and the government agreed that they have excluded us,” Wani informed.

“Court ordered the government to provide us salary and do not disturb our position in the department till final decision comes. But post-abrogation of J&K’s special status, the government simply junked the court order and disengaged us.”

Lateef Baba, who’s working in Government Degree College Pampore, has already sent legal notices to his college principal for restoring his services.

“But the college authority is brazenly telling me that they won’t follow the court orders and allow me to work there,” said Baba.

Dr. Seema Naz, Principal Degree College, Pampore, told Kashmir Observer that Baba’s workload is not justified in the college, so she cannot take his services anymore.

Campaign hassles

Fired college lecturers are also accusing the officials of the higher education department of harassing them because of their justice campaign.

“Officials in Secretariat have left no stone unturned to torture and harass us mentally,” said Dr Muhammad Yousuf Nengroo, Vice President JK College Contractual Teachers Association (JKCCTA).

“We’re highly qualified youth and after JK became UT we’ve been left jobless. Government’s tall claims of employment are just a hoax. Nothing has been done on the ground. Highly qualified youth are pushed towards the wall.”

Reconsideration Letter

As Director Colleges, Preezada Mohammad Yousuf Shah and Secretary Higher Education, Talat Parvez Rohella were not available for their comment on the story, a top government official told Kashmir Observer on the condition of anonymity that the college principals had sent a required list of around 1300 contractual lecturers, but the government only confirmed appointment of 800 candidates.

“500 candidates have been categorized as surplus when the colleges have dearth of these lecturers,” the official said. “I don’t know why the administration has not considered these candidates.”

College principals, he said, have now again written to the higher education department for reconsidering the excluded candidates, as they don’t have faculty available.

“We’re hopeful that they will look into the matter soon,” the official said.

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