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.

Keshavi Sethi, 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 staff 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.

Perhaps the most striking realisation the students had, after hearing from Singh’s former students, was that he had not always been shy and reserved. The students wondered whether he had grown withdrawn as a result of his professional instability. “We found out that he was actually a very lively and vibrant person,” Sharma said. “And they didn’t remember him as being preoccupied with his thoughts or being distant.”

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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.

The suicide of Samarveer Singh rekindled conversations around the system of ad-hoc teachers at Delhi University. (All images for representational purposes.) Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Billjones94

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. “The points are marked according to levels of qualification – graduation, post-graduation, MPhil, PhD, NET, and a few points are given for paper publication,” said 44-year-old Pandey, who has worked at Ramjas College, Indraprastha College for Women and Motilal Nehru College, and is currently back at Ramjas. Since no weightage is given to experience, Pandey said, “even if a candidate has worked for 20 years at Delhi University, a candidate fresh out of their degree may still be appointed instead.”

If a candidate meets the eligibility criteria, their final selection depends entirely on their interview. “The main problem is that 100% weightage is given to interviews,” Pandey added.

Pandey noted that some such interviews he had attended had lasted as little as three minutes. Another teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, said that he had attended around 30 interviews for a permanent position in colleges affiliated to Delhi University, many of which had lasted only a few minutes. Some news reports noted that Singh too had attended interviews that lasted as little as two minutes. “How in just a few minutes, can one determine the capabilities of an individual?” Pandey questioned.

Further, Pandey said, in his experience the interviews themselves were conducted in a slipshod manner. “There is no objectivity in the interview process,” he said. “No priority is given to our experience or any attempt made to determine our calibre.” In one interview, he recounted, he was asked why he was at the interview, since he was likely to secure an appointment at another college. “I did not end up getting a job in either place,” he said.

He rued the fact that after 12 years as a teacher, his job was still not secure, and that candidates with no experience were seen as equally eligible as him. “Some candidates who have PhDs from universities abroad or who have worked extensively in the field are also not being considered,” he said.

Pandey has filed a petition at the Delhi High Court pertaining to this system of appointments. In it, he has demanded that additional posts be created in order to accommodate economically weaker section candidates, or EWS candidates – in 2019, the government mandated that 10% of total government jobs be reserved for candidates from this category. “The administration did not create additional posts when EWS was implemented,” he said. “A few of us were expecting permanent appointment. Instead, those posts became allotted under EWS quota.” He added, “They were taking away posts under the general category instead of creating new ones.”

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.”

Kavitha Bedi, 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.

Among the complaints ad-hoc teachers have about the recruitment process for permanent teachers is that no weightage is given to a candidate’s years of experience. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Ravi Dwivedi

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. Jha explained that they are paid Rs 1,500 per hour and that their total earnings from the university cannot exceed Rs 50,000 per month. That pay is much lower than what Bedi used to make as an ad-hoc teacher – some ad-hoc teachers told Scroll that they earn between Rs 80,000 and Rs 1 lakh a month.

A few months ago, Bedi took up a position at a private college because she found her earnings as a guest lecturer insufficient. But she is still attempting to secure a permanent position at the university, which would provide her with greater job security.

The hopes of teachers like Bedi were further diminished last month after Delhi University announced that it would no longer hire faculty on an ad-hoc basis and that it would only recruit permanent teachers. Though this should have been a positive step that increased ad-hoc teachers’ chances of securing these appointments, they fear that this will not be the outcome. “This does not mean that these vacancies will finally be filled,” Jha said. “It only means that more teachers will now be hired as guest lecturers.”

He added, “Ad-hoc teachers were already being exploited, but the complete ending of ad-hoc appointments only means that guest lecturers will be exploited. Since people are desperate for jobs, there will be lots of people applying for guest positions.”

Guest lecturers are at an even greater disadvantage when it comes to applying for permanent positions. While ad-hoc teachers suffer in this regard because there is no weightage given in the points system to their years of experience, they are formally permitted to claim on their resumes and in interviews that they have this experience; guest lecturers, however, are not permitted to do so.

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 Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Many displaced teachers made the same allegation.

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

One of the Indraprastha College teachers, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the terminations were particularly unjust because as ad-hoc teachers who hoped for permanent appointments, they had all put in extra work to improve their chances of being hired. She herself had organised many conferences, and seminars and had been involved in significant amounts of administrative work, she said. “Since our situation is precarious, we also cannot say no to any work,” she explained.

She added, “If I had admin work I would sometimes come in 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.

Similarly, the Indraprastha College teacher said, older faculty members who needed time to seek healthcare struggled because of the lack of leaves.

The teacher explained that her position was relatively less precarious compared to those further advanced in their careers. “It is possible for me to change jobs too since I am still young,” she said. “But I can’t imagine people in their late thirties or forties who are forced to seek new opportunities.”

In May 2023, the teacher-in-charge of the zoology department of Swami Shraddhanand College resigned from that position in protest against the treatment of ad-hoc teachers in the college. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Varunmemememe

In the last month, the teacher and all her colleagues have been attending numerous interviews to try and find a permanent position in a college at Delhi University. “I try to keep myself busy as much as possible,” she said. “But it does get difficult to cope with the anxiety of finding a job.”

She added, “Some of my colleagues are the only earning members in their families.”

The teachers are also worried because they have still not received their final salaries and documents they had submitted to the college. “We have been waiting for them to get back to us,” she said. “It’s been over a month.”

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

The Indraprastha College teacher explained that unlike many other ad-hoc teachers, she did not feel that her interview was rushed. In fact, she came out of her job interview at the same department feeling confident. “I felt sure that I would be appointed because during my time there I also published extensively and on a lot of renowned platforms,” she said. “I had an answer to every question that they asked me.” Despite this, she said, candidates who had less experience and lower qualifications were selected.

Some teachers also observed unusual patterns in the recruitment process. “Sometimes we see people getting congratulated on their selection even before the selected list comes out,” said N Sukumar, a professor at Delhi University. “On the university group on Facebook, I have seen this happen. How do people already know who is getting picked?”

The ad-hoc community has also argued that during recruitment for humanities faculty, there is usually a lack of clarity on qualifications that candidates must possess to apply for a position. Raj explained that under university regulations, candidates who have studied a humanities subject as an allied subject rather than as their main subject are also eligible to apply for teaching positions in those subjects. “I am from a science stream, and if you have to teach physics you should have a degree in that subject,” he said. “But that is not the case with humanities subjects. Even if you have studied something vaguely connected, you can apply to the department.”

He added, “The university has to take steps to make these distinctions clear. Or just about anybody, even someone who hasn’t studied the subject well or long enough, can become a staff.”

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.

The union has also pointed out that a large proportion of ad-hoc teachers belong to disadvantaged communities. In a letter to India’s vice president in 2022, AK Bhagi, the president of the union, pointed out that 50% of the ad-hoc population were from the categories of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Castes and Persons with Disabilities.

“The service terms and conditions of ad-hoc teachers violate the principle of equal pay for equal work,” he wrote. “These well-qualified and experienced teachers working on adhoc/temporary basis have been forced to work under discriminatory and exploitative service conditions.”

Bhagi also noted that the proportion of ad-hoc teachers was greater than 50% of the total number of teachers currently working in Delhi University and its constituent colleges. “This also violates the permissible University Grant Commission’s norm of a maximum 10% of the sanctioned posts through non-permanent teachers,” he stated.

Further, the letter demanded, “For resolving the problem Delhi University, United Grants Commission and Ministry of Education together should frame the modalities to absorb these teachers by bringing One Time Extraordinary Ordinance/Bill.”

Hamza Ahmed, an ad-hoc teacher who asked to be identified by a pseudonym said that the interminable search for work, and repeated rejections, were taking a great toll on the mental health of ad-hoc teachers. “This uncertainty is having a huge impact on our mental health,” he said. “Many of us are under a lot of stress.”

Samarveer Singh’s students recounted that he was also struggling psychologically under these pressures. “We found out later from Samarveer’s colleague that he had noticed that he was extremely mentally disturbed,” Sethi said.

Singh’s student Rusham Sharma had always wanted to try her hand at teaching. But after witnessing the manner in which her own teachers are being treated, she is less sure of her plan. She explained that she and her friends often speak of how much they enjoy the processes of learning and teaching, but that they were all considering giving up on the idea of teaching as a profession, and instead seeking secure jobs and fair work environments. “But I wonder,” she said. “Are we dreaming too much?”

This reporting is made possible with support from Report for the World, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.