By Syed Zubair Ahmad
Contrary to the claims of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas’ (Together with all, development for all), the policy of the current dispensation has pushed institutions meant to empower marginalised communities to the brink of closure. The Centers for the Study of Social Exclusion & Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP) is one such institution which has virtually been left abandoned due to financial constraints and bizarre guidelines.
Through an initiative of the University Grants Commission (UGC) under the XIth (2007-2012) Plan of the Government of India, the previous Congress government brought up the institution to promote interdisciplinary research on social marginalization faced by SCs/ST/OBCs and minorities. As many as 35 centres were established in several universities in the country.
Since the formation of NITI Aayog in 2017, the government’s policy think tank, the problem started. These centres, which were established under the five-year plan and were supposed to get renewed every five years, were asked to seek yearly renewal.
People in the know of the workings of the institution are critical of the “bizarre rules and guidelines” being enforced in the name of “transparency”. They alleged that it all started with the formation of the government’s policy think tank NITI Aayog. These centres, which were supposed to get renewed every five years, are now being asked to seek yearly renewal, jeopardizing academic research. “How can a centre register students for Ph.D and MA courses while having to seek renewal every year?” said a staff of CSSEIP-Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI).
“A researcher needs job security and peace of mind to conduct academic work. How can one do research in an uncertain future? We need peace of mind for any kind of academic and research work,” added a faculty member from Mysore University Centre.
Faculty members curtailed
Most of the centres have only 1-2 faculty members, whereas they were initially supposed to have 4-6. For instance, the Al Beruni Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), Hyderabad, started with six faculty members but now only has one assistant professor and one director on deputation. Some faculty members left, some were promoted, and some retired.
The CSSEIP, which has only four research scholars, is currently working under one faculty member at a centre where there should be at least 16 scholars under four faculty members.
‘When CSSEIP-Chennai started it had six teaching faculty, One professor, two assistants and two associate professors apart from two research associates but due to unprecedented delay in salary and uncertain future five staff have left the Center. Now this center has only one faculty’ reveals a staff member on the condition of anonymity.
Due to their contractual job status, most faculty members are not assigned the responsibility of supervising research scholars, which was originally their primary role. As an example, Dr. Siddaraju VG and Dr. DC Nanjunda of Mysuru Centre, who are not permanent staff, are not allowed to supervise research scholars. However, in the absence of official research work, faculty members are voluntarily guiding sociology department research scholars and organizing symposiums and seminars on social issues.
Salary delays ranging from 6 to 24 months are common. Two associate professors at CSSEIP-Mysore have not received their salaries for the past two years. Professor Ramesh who came on deputation for three years left the Centre while Professor Dinesh joined a college after a prolonged delay in salary, reducing the number of faculty members from two to one.
“No salary has been paid to the only teaching staff of Chennai-CSSEIP centre for the last two years as UGC has no funds. The non-teaching staff receives monthly payments of 12-15k rupees from the university,” unfolded another staff member, requesting anonymity. “Now we have been without salary for the past seven months. How can we survive in a metro city like Delhi for six months without a salary, considering we have to pay for everything on a monthly basis, from ration to rent? It’s unbearable for salaried staff like us,” said a CSSEIP staff member from Jamia Millia Islamia. He claimed that the UGC cited a paucity of funds when he, along with others, raised their problems of salary delay.
Rosina Nasir, who is an assistant professor at CSSEIP-JNU, had to go to the High Court to get her 30 months’ salary released. Three years ago, she was told to vacate the JNU campus after she went to court for the release of her salary. She had no money even to pay the lawyer. She is living in a rented house with her mother. It didn’t stop there, she was barred from supervising research scholars which was her prime job. In, fact, she was excluded from an organization which was established for inclusion.
She is the lone staff member at the centre who was not given permanent status despite 14 years of experience in teaching. In a deliberate move she was made to suffer mentally, physically, socially and emotionally, said one of her relatives.
Like Rosina, CSSEIP-JMI faculty member Sheikh Mujeebur Rahman also has to go to court to get his salary released regularly.
UGC guidelines flouted
These centres were established to research the exclusion of the most marginalized and deprived sections of society. However, the way these centres are being excluded and treated unfairly by UGC and the Ministry of HRD is a matter worth researching. The UGC guidelines clearly state that “all staff of the CSSEIP are entitled to prescribed pay and other benefits as given to the corresponding staff of the university.” Unfortunately, this guideline does not apply to CSSEIP centres.
Since most of the faculty members are on temporary contracts, the related universities do not assign them, research scholars, to supervise, despite it being their primary responsibility. Dr. Siddaraju VG and Dr. DC Nanjunda of the Mysuru Centre are not permanent staff, so the university does not assign them to supervise research scholars. Due to the lack of research work, the faculty members voluntarily guide research scholars from the sociology department and organize symposiums and seminars on social issues.
A headless body, contractual staff
According to a former faculty member of CSSEIP-Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, having a permanent head would provide the authority to address issues, engage with higher authorities, and secure projects for the centre. However, due to this lack of stability, CSSEIP is encountering difficulties in sustaining itself.
Further, the majority of teaching staff are working on a temporary basis. That’s’ why universities dont allocate research scholars to supervise which is the primary job of faculty members apart from teaching. Surprisingly, only three centres have 4-5 faculty members, while the rest are primarily managed by 1-2 teaching staff members on temporary appointments.
Why the government cannot close the Centers
A brainchild of former UGC chairman Sukhadeo Thorat, the CSSEIP cannot be closed by any government. Although the Narendra Modi government has stopped the funds for the centres, it cannot close the institution. Before establishing the centres, Thorat took an undertaking/affidavit from all vice-chancellors stating that if there is a lack of funding from the UGC, the related universities will adopt the centres, and the universities will bear the expenses, according to a former staff member of MANNU-Lucknow. Those in power know what is meant by ‘exclusion’ and who are excluded, they are very allergic to these centres which can become a tool for the empowerment of the deprived and marginalized.
Out of 35 CSSEIP centres only 32 are functioning. Three Centres are running somehow with 4-5 teaching faculty members, rest are on ventilators with 1-2 faculty. If the problems are not addressed promptly, the demise of these centres is inevitable.