Destroying teachers and celebrating Teachers’ Day

Last Updated: Fri, Sep 05, 2014 12:56 hrs

Ashley Tellis on the miserable conditions of teachers’ lives in India

The appalling state of Indian teachers is best exemplified by their being pushed off stage on the one day when their contribution is remembered to allow for students to be brainwashed by the speech of the Prime Minister.

They are being forced to create conditions for this speech to be heard, asked to submit reports on it and threatened with surprise inspections. That’s how much teachers are being respected on their day.



When it is not the head of state, it is Vice Chancellors who push teachers around, threaten them, humiliate themall year long and expel them based on a whim. They run Universities like fiefdoms.

The VC at Delhi University has been doing that for years and it only seems like he’s getting his comeuppance because political power has changed at the Centre. The next VC is going to be no different and possibly worse.

The university is an educational institution and yet most VCs who head them are political appointees with only the façade of educational qualifications. A toadie mindset is the real criterion for their appointment.

These VCs specialize in threatening teachers with explusion in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, especially in privately owned Universities.

However, the state University is beginning to look more and more like the private University and the treatment of teachers is increasingly the same in both.

Harassing teachers, humiliating them, over-working and under-paying them are all becoming norms in both sites.

Once again Delhi University seems to be the best example where thousands of teachers remain ad hoc and there has been no recruitment or filling of vacant posts for years and the teachers’ body DUTA has been ignored and humiliated for years now.

Teachers are increasingly coming to be seen as service providers in the knowledge industry, no better than cashiers at a Department store.

They are not given the space and time to do research at all in public universities and in private ones are terrorized into it and end up producing utterly mediocre work that is mass-produced.

The privatisation of Indian academia means that teachers have actually become the new reserve of informal labour with all the exploitation of that largest sector in the Indian labour force accompanying it.

We are easily dispensable and most do not protest for fear of losing their jobs. We are hounded by all the surveillance mechanisms and brute violence that labour strikes and protests are met with if and when we ever manage to protest.

If teachers are treated like this, it is only to be expected that this is exactly how a large number of teachers treat their students. Everyone treats people with lesser power in exactly the same way they are being treated.

Yet the change is that terrified by the fact that students are now customers and the customers are always right (the students bring in the money and have to be placated), harsh treatment (which rests on the ideology that teachers are special and gurus (hence the MHRD desire to rename the day) is alternated with free marks, leaked exams and every trick in the book to get good evaluations (especially in private Universities).

Teachers now hate and fear their students. Teaching is slow and hard work. It involves the task of, as Gayatri Spivak puts it, uncoercively rearranging desires, re-training the imagination which requires mutual trust, mutual learning and mutual growth, not hatred and fear.

Teaching also demands close and detailed attention and is much more of a vocation than a profession. Yet fresh postgraduates only join to make money (the new pay scales are handy) even as they prepare for the Civil Services or a job in the corporate world which is their top priority.

Such ‘teachers’ are not interested in teaching at all and most openly say so. What training will such ‘teachers’ be imparting to their students? What critical questioning of the world will such conservative ‘teachers’ foster?

In a recent Diary entry in The London Review of Books, author Marina Warner, who quit her academic job because these conditions obtain in Britain as well (and indeed across the world), speaks of the “new brutalism” in academia and summaries it well when she, speaking of the new breed of administrators, says: “They’re minor but willing operatives in a larger mechanics of power. Within this structure, they have been allowed to wrest authority for themselves and neither scholars nor long-serving teachers have a say; individual students, once enrolled and committed, are not much attended to either.”

Teachers and students, as she points out, don’t seem to matter in education any more.

Teachers have to contest this new brutalism if they want to survive. Yet most of them are too busy being the, to quote Warner again, “enforcers [who] rush to carry out the latest orders from their chiefs in an ecstasy of obedience to ideological principles which they do not seem to have examined, let alone discussed with the people they order to follow them, whom they cashier when they won't knuckle under.”

Warner is talking here about administrators but teachers are the ones being cashiered, sent out the door. However, there are enough teachers who are willing to be such administrators, or the willing handmaidens of such administrators, themselves.

What they do not realize is that being cashiered will be their fate too. That will be the fate of all teachers in this country pretty soon. Happy Teacher’s Day!

Ashley Tellis teaches at the Jindal Global Law School, O. P Jindal Global University, Haryana and is an activist

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