Saturday, February 24, 2024

Why I was displaced from Indraprastha College for Women?

On January 2019, I was appointed as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Multi Media and Mass Communication of Indraprastha College for Women. My happiness knew no bounds. This was my Alma Mater, my own department calling me, to give back to the students. I had been the first Indian student to get full scholarship to study at University of Westminster, London. Then I had worked with a think-tank associated with Foreign Ministry of South Africa in Johannesburg. The choice to return to India, pursue an M.Phil. and PhD in International Relations, was intentional: I wanted to grow my roots in my own country, make my students ahead of their time and space, even mine. I had visited/worked in several countries like Egypt, West Bank, UK, US, South Africa, Oman, etc. It was time to give back to my society. 

Alas, the department was beyond mediocrity, which took me years to understand, why? Most of my colleagues had strong social capital but less intellectual pursuits. We never came out of the discussions on ‘mother-in-law, husband, child and maid’. I felt alienated, so alone in a department filled with people. I could not even have a conversation. 

Therefore, I was termed as ‘arrogant’, ‘aggressive’ and ‘pseudo-intellectual’, because I always questioned and demanded professionalism. Obviously, it made it difficult for them to work with me. They could not understand where I came from. I do not blame them. But when it came to academic help, I was sought after. I had supervised the entire PhD of one of my own colleagues, who recently got the degree (I have full evidence to support this). Why did I do so? Because I was living in a paradox: I desperately wanted to belong to the department but was alienated, I wanted to show I was human, too, just different. On the other hand, I detested being there, locked in the department with no growth. Did I travel and work so hard to end here?  My mind was stagnating. Also, because I was a migrant from Bihar, a single woman who did it all, without any godfather: I was always considered an outsider. Be it class, caste or regionalism. Always on outsider. 

2023 was a difficult year for me. I remember, storming out the of the office of then Acting Principal, who declined to have any transgender or queer minority festival of February 14th, a tradition of Women’s Development Cell of IP College, which had continued for years. I resigned from the post, as I stood for the minority voices (as I have also worked and published on transgender in India) It would be hypocritical, I thought, to write about the issues, and not voice for them. Why was I declined? The only answer was: it would give a wrong impression to students and their parents. But these students are adults with their own minds. Also, who can forget the case of Senior Advocate Saurabh Kirpal, who had been targeted for his sexual orientation? You would wonder if I am then bisexual, lesbian or queer? The simple answer is, as I reiterate, I am human and I believe in the fluidity of identities, chosen by a person and not super-imposed by the hegemony of administration. That’s it.

As a norm, the supervisor of the Women’s Development Cell is automatically in the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). I had resigned but the College had not updated the notice/or uploaded a new one. I was asked, if I wanted to continue to be in the ICC. I said, yes. Why? 

Because on 28th March, during the College Annual Fest Shruti – thousands of men, few drunk, few chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram’ stormed our campus and mishandled our own students? There was no security in place. Imagine students and teachers forming a human chain to keep the miscreants out. How helpless, they must have felt. When a correspondent from The Hindu contacted me to know the details, I forwarded the number of the Students’ Union Teacher. Later, she called and shouted, berated me, for doing so. Yes, I understand that perhaps, I should have asked her, but then again, saying nothing to the media would be like playing a ‘devil’s advocate’. We had to tell the truth, no matter what.

Meanwhile, the College transformed. Students were holding protests and were being targeted. Their parents were being summoned. We even had drone flying in the campus. Teachers were not allowed to talk to students. Anyone who did so, so scrutinized. The fear psychosis was building on. My colleagues used to lock the studio from outside, so that the protesting students do not enter the class. I myself was scolded by senior teachers for taking a video of the protest and was forced to delete it. I wanted to fight with the students, not for the resignation of the Principal but just to have a dialogue? Can we imagine the horror, terror and self-hate these students might have gone through? Our bodies are always political, but this was egregious, to not even have a recognition. Imagine, feeling so unsafe in a girls’ college, feeling so trapped. 

Few senior teachers also threatened the students that if they participated in protests, their Internal Assessment marks would be cut down. The students are still scared. I remember, giving an unsolicited advice to the Principal Poonam Kumria, in the staffroom, just a day after, to just have a dialogue with the students. She did not agree. Everything was blamed on AISA or other non-IP students. 

During the proceedings of the ICC, we received almost 225 complaints. A student had to undergo surgery. One was on the brink of suicide. But all of them were scared. The lawyer who represented us, did ask if we faced subtle or direct threats from the administration. I had laughed then, because I knew mine would be termination. But I had to fight. It was me who convinced the students to speak their truth the ICC, give their insights, as they were badly targeted. I was also given two pen-drives by the ICC head regarding the CCTV footage of the fest. Interestingly, the timing of the stampede and the mishandling, which was 3 pm, showed only blank screens. Obviously, I can assume (without evidence though) that they were tampered with. But before I could formulate the report, the pen-drive was taken from me. Why? Because the ICC head at that time had been caught up in an SC/ST complaint against her by a colleague of her own department and the Principal knew then, how to control the situation. We hardly had meeting of the ICC, very sporadically. The report which has to be submitted within 90 days was never done. 

The Multi Media and Mass Communication Department of IP College does not hold regular interviews for the assistant professors. Last year, the same colleague whose PhD I had helped, was under scrutiny for becoming an Assistant Professor from a previous technical position. Our contracts were delayed because the administration was preparing to defend him. Well, he was defended.

This year, on 5th July, the interviews took place. I was asked questions by the External that “who do you think will win the next elections?’ What do you know about capitalism and feminism? Do you take classes online on social media (in contractual positions, we can, but at that time, I was not) This entails the surveillance on my social media accounts by the administration? The Principal said that how she has asked a student to write a written apology to her on questioning her during the fest. Why was I being told so? My interview went for 45 minutes. I answered everything, apart from the question on Manipur violence, as academically, I did not have the knowledge or research insights to give opinions about an issue so sensitive. Lastly, I was questioned if I see myself as a role model of my students. I said no. Why should I speak on behalf of them? They are free, independent and powerful young students, with the right to choose their own role model. Who am I to super-impose my own power over them. That is asymmetrical power relation. I am not God.

After that, the classes ended. I was denied examination duty. I went to the College, literally begging everyone from the Staff Association head to Administrative Officers to the clerks, on why this was done. I felt so humiliated and by then, panic attacks had become regular for me. Not one colleague of my department came in solidarity. Not one. Then I finally wrote to the Principal, explaining my limbo. Next day, we got an extension letter till 31st July. Interestingly, I went to collect the letter on 1st August, where I saw that everyone in my department had their contract renewed, everyone. Except me, perhaps because I did not have an RSS affiliation, as everyone else in my department. There was no notice put on the website, like for other permanent appointments. I would like to know why?

There was no reason for the termination given. Well, that’s how contractual jobs are vulnerable through systematic exploitation. I was later told, my department wanted to withhold even my salary. They wanted me to check papers of the previous examinations but why should I and how could I: if I am not employed by the College? I was reprimanded rudely, on my last date by the department head, without any courtesy of farewell or a good word. It felt as she was dusting the dirt. Everyone was playing their cards right. Thankfully, I got my experience letter and salary, much to the dismay of my department. After that, I deliberately stayed in touch with the Principal, sending her my videos of panel discussion at media forums, experts opinions in the newspaper. I wanted her to know that she couldn’t end my career and I never understood, why as a woman, as a mother, she hated me so much. She never responded.

Later, I was also told that the department used to question if students were still in touch with me? If they were passing information to me? This came, not as a shock, but as a farce to me. The world had moved on, and they were still struggling to target me? Why? There is a world beyond IP College and I had started creating a niche for me. Meanwhile, my other colleagues from English, Sociology and Geography department, the best of academics, were not selected for permanent position. My colleagues in Sociology department had started the department and today, most of them have returned to their homes, filled with the ignominy of anonymity. Is this justice? Well, we had heard a rumor way back in March that the Principal will not select anyone from ‘JNU, Muslim, Bengali or left community.’ I understand that every regime plays its own ideology, but what about merit?

On 18th November, I went again for the Political Science interview. Every candidate was given 2 minutes. There were 1500 candidates, almost. When I entered the interview room, it was uncomfortable. There was a zoom screen, with one panelist who had switched the video on. Others were muted and with no video. I do not know if there were actual panelists behind. Why were they hiding their identity? Before me, were the Teacher in Charge of the Political Science Department, the Principal and one more expert. It was tough for me to answer and even look because I did not know who is asking the question, whom should I respond? My API score out of 100 was 91, later it was changed to 81. It did not surprise me. 

The reason for going to the political science interview was for closure. To bid goodbye. When other alumnae tell me how they detest what’s happening in the College, I just tell them to be proud of their heritage. It is just a tough time that we are passing through. We have fought against the British, got arrested. We ensured that we had a swimming pool, we had to fight for that too. We never stayed silent. We will not say silent. After my press conference, I have been contacted by so many students, with such long heartfelt messages. It made me feel that I was not struggling alone. Perhaps, I did belong at IP. 

I am writing this with the knowledge that action would be taken against me. But I am also adopting the systemic process of contacting the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister of our country, with some amount of hope I have left. Our institutions have created us, given us our voice, a new administration cannot take it away. After all, I again reiterate, we are humans. 

Dr. Shubhda Chaudhary is a West Asia political analyst and editor at the Centre for India West Asia Dialogue.

Dr. Shubhda Chaudhary
Dr. Shubhda Chaudhary
Dr. Shubhda Chaudhary is a West Asia political analyst and editor at the Centre for India West Asia Dialogue.
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