Why teachers and students are protesting the 13-point roster system for faculty recruitment

Shahid Tantray for The Caravan
01 February, 2019

“It is a very big thing if you are from a reserved category and get a faculty seat in Delhi University,” Manish Kumar, the head of the political-science department at Swami Shraddhanand College, said. Kumar was one of the thousands of attendees at a massive protest rally on 31 January in the national capital. Organised by the Bhim Army, an Ambedkarite organisation, the rally opposed the imposition of what is popularly being called the 13-point roster— a new method to appoint teaching faculty which will significantly reduce seats for candidates from the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Class communities across the the country. On 22 January this year, the Supreme Court had dismissed a special leave petition against this system.

Students, teachers and workers from various political parties marched from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar in Delhi, to demand that this system be scrapped. The protestors also demanded that the central government pass a bill to reinstate the previous system, commonly referred to as the 200-point roster. “Check the DU posts,” Kumar told me, adding that even under the previous system, reserved seats never totalled 49 percent, the stipulated limit under the Constitution. “If this is the condition in Delhi University, imagine the state of the others,” Kumar said. “And the courts aren’t on our side. This is just sad.”

In April 2017, the Allahabad high court passed a judgment that ordered changes in the methodology for calculation of reservation in faculty positions in higher-education institutes. At the time, the 200-point roster was followed, which considered a college or university as one unit for calculating the number of reserved seats—out of 200 posts, 101 would go unreserved while the remaining 99 split among SC, ST and OBC candidates. But the high court ruled that each department in a university or college should be considered as a separate unit.

Then, in March 2018, the University Grants Commission, the official body charged with maintaining standards in Indian higher education, issued a notice to all central universities and state-funded universities which announced a new system that had been developed to comply with the high court’s order. The notice said that departments within universities would be seen as independent units.

Reservations in India are mandated to be 27 percent for OBC candidates, 15 percent for SC candidates and 7.5 percent for ST candidates—this roughly translates to every fourth seat being reserved for an OBC candidate, every seventh for an SC candidate and every fourteenth for an ST candidate. When the unit in consideration is large, reservation is easier to ensure. But under the new system, this calculation would apply to each department. In small enough units, reservation would not be implemented at all—for instance, in a department with six faculty positions, only one seat will be reserved for OBC candidates. ST candidates, by comparison, would not get any reservation in departments of less than 14 faculty members.

The system will reduce reserved seats by large margins for all three categories—reportedly up to 97 percent for the SCs, 78 to 100 percent for the STs and 25 to 100 percent for the OBCs, according to the findings of the human-resource development ministry.

Several professors I spoke to at the protest said most departments do not have 13 faculty positions. Khole Timothy Poumai, a professor from Motilal Nehru College told me, “There is very little appointment for STs. Very rarely will a department reach 13 appointments.” He added that in his college, only one department exceeded 13 positions. Kumar, from the Swami Shraddhanand College, said, “Most departments have four or five or maybe seven, and in these cases, hardly anyone will get the seat that they are due.” Poumai added that the new system was against the spirit of the Constitution. “Reservation is a constitutional right,” Poumai said. “Under this new system, this right is being curtailed.”

The UGC notification was met with much furore and opposition from teachers and student bodies across the country. Subsequently, the human resource department filed a special leave petition with the Supreme Court, requesting that the old system be restored. But to no avail—the Supreme Court dismissed the petition. “We do not understand why the Supreme Court would do something like this,” Bharat Bhushan, a faculty member from the Delhi University’s Zakir Husain Delhi College, told me at the protest. “They have been messing with this system very slowly and eroding whatever little the teachers have.”

Thursday’s protest was promoted widely on social media, with the hashtag “Against13pointRoster,” and was coordinated online as well. Various student organisations, in large part Ambedkarite groups, were present at the rally. Chandrashekhar Azad, the chief of Bhim Army, delivered a rousing speech from atop a tempo, to loud chants of “Jai Bhim” from the crowd. Azad described the courts as “Manuvaadi”—adherents of the Manusmriti. Volunteers and workers from the Rashtriya Janata Dal, or RJD and the Samajwadi Party were also present. Tejashwi Yadav, the leader of the opposition in Bihar, from the RJD, addressed the crowd at Jantar Mantar.

Teachers at the protest raised other grievances as well. Bhushan told me that he has been an ad-hoc professor for 14 years. According to a report by the website The Print, 33 percent of teaching positions in central universities lie vacant, but ad-hoc teachers are not being given permanent jobs. “There are several other professors who are yet to be promoted in over 25 years, so you can see how the situation has been deteriorating,” he said. The teachers I met from Delhi University claimed that many of them were denied rightful pension as well. Referring to the 13-point roster, Bhushan said, “This will be the final nail.”

Several protestors I met said that the new system conforms to the present government’s policies, which have furthered the repression of marginalised communities. That the government filed a special leave petition regarding the matter, some implied, did not redeem it from introducing other policies that put marginalised communities on the back foot. “While atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis and OBCs are visible across the country, it has manifested in a different way within academia,” Umar Khalid, a former student of Jawaharlal Nehru University and an activist, said. Khalid claimed that reservation in JNU has not been implemented for three years. In 2016, the UGC announced a regulation that changed the admission process for pursuing an Mphil or PhD at the university. It stipulated that the qualifying round would consist of a written examination, following which admission will depend solely on the viva voce. The regulation was implemented despite fierce opposition—many students and faculty pointed out that the viva process can be discriminatory towards students from marginalised backgrounds. Subsequently, the Supreme Court struck it down. The 13-point roster, Khalid said, “seems like a theme that has been running through the government.”

The new system “feels like years of hard work has just been thrown away,” Manoj Jha, a member of Rajya Sabha for the RJD and a professor at Delhi University, told me. “First they diluted the SC/ST act, then they raised the bar for EWS”—referring to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Act (Prevention of Atrocities) and the recently announced reservation for economically-weaker sections. “This is systematic and crude oppression.”