Monday, February 9, 2015

Delhi University Contract Workers Forum Registers Protest over Prof. Thapan's Appointment as Provost

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Open Letter to University of Delhi administration

The Dean of Colleges,
University of Delhi,

We strongly condemn the University’s decision to appoint Prof. Meenakshi Thapan of the Department of Sociology as the Provost of the International Students’ House for Women (ISHW). As is publicly known, Prof Thapan was the Provost of the neighbouring Ambedkar-Ganguly Students’ House for Women (AGSHW) till July 2014, after which she resigned from the position in face of criticism and opposition from the hostel’s Managing Committee. These stemmed from numerous complaints about misbehaviour and/or infringements of the rights of contract workers in that hostel under Prof. Thapan’s management. The gravity of these complaints and irregularities can be gauged from the following:

  • In the past few years, whenever complaints about misbehaviour of hostel administration or infringements of the rights of contract workers were taken to the authorities of the AGSHW, the contract workers in question – sanitation workers and security guards for the most – were instantly dismissed, despite good service record of many years’ standing. 
  • Sanitation and housekeeping workers have been made to work at the Provost and Resident Tutor’s houses during the hours when they were supposed to do their duties in the hostel. This labour was extracted through the constant humiliation and threats of job loss and was a norm under Prof. Thapan’s tenure. 
  • Given the above, members of the University’s SC/ST Employees’ Welfare Association had also intervened to communicate their knowledge of such behaviour. 
  • Over the previous three academic sessions, residents of the hostel who were part of the Students’ Welfare Committee have repeatedly issued formal complaints against her management to office-bearers in the administration. Similarly, Prof. Thapan’s mismanagement of the hostel’s financial affairs in 2010, negligence of duties in times of crisis and constant harassment of workers have also been made public from time to time by the Students’ Welfare Association of the AGSHW. 
It was only after the persistent intervention of members of the New Socialist Initiative (NSI), hostel residents and faculty members on the hostel's Managing Committee concerned over violation of the law that the wages in the hostel were raised to the legally stipulated minimum wage. However, the non-payment of arrears to all those workers who worked below minimum wages for several years before is as yet an unresolved issue. 

These and other matters relating to mismanagement under Prof. Thapan’s tenure as Provost to the AGSHW are in the public domain as public record. Two separate Managing Committees of the AGSHW over the last two academic sessions would be able to confirm these violations and attest to the changes effected in the running of the hostel to avoid the possibility of further disturbance caused by the Provost’s mismanagement. It should be noted that while neighbouring hostels attempted to resolve these issues through negotiations and dialogue, no such interaction was possible under Prof. Thapan’s management. Significantly, it should further be noted that:
  • on 8th April 2014, a safai karmachari of AGSHW was humiliated and abused by the Provost and her husband, while he was working at her residence. Following his refusal to work in the Provost’s residence and request to be given duties within the hostel premises only, which is in keeping with his job description and rules of the hostel, he was further victimised. Workers' solidarity and concern among the student residents on this issue drew the ire of the Provost, who then removed 5 out of 6 sanitation workers and 6 security guards from their jobs at the hostel. 
  • on 1st July 2014, AGSHW brought to our notice that on the occasion of his overnight dismissal from his job, a security guard was told by the Resident Tutor to take off his uniform given to him by the hostel and return home shirtless. Such bodily humiliation of people, some of who belong to the Dalit community is clearly punishable under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) act 1989. 
Hence, despite being aware of her violations of the Minimum Wages Act and her committing acts of humiliation that are tantamount to a violation of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, the University administration’s decision to reappoint Prof. Thapan to a similar position where she can exercise power over contract labourers is shocking and deeply disturbing. Apart from Prof. Thapan’s resignation on the same issue, we are witness to no action by the University. Instead, Prof. Thapan’s reinstatement as the Provost of the neighbouring hostel within the same hostel complex seems like a sanction her illegal and inept management from the University itself and cannot but be seen as an act of disrespect for human dignity.

In light of these widely known public concerns, we demand that the University authorities revoke the appointment of Prof. Thapan as the new Provost of the International Students' House for Women. The University should provide a fair and rational work environment, instead of making the staff insecure and fearful of daily bullying and humiliation as soon as they step into their work site. We also endorse the following demands made by the NSI in its letter dated 7th July 2014 to the Chairperson of the Managing Committee of the AGSHW and hope that these will be met before this academic session is over:
  1. An immediate end to the continuous harassment and victimization of workers, and their reinstatement. 
  2. The removal of the Provost and the Resident Tutor and legal action against the former. 
  3. A grievance redressal mechanism to prevent and deal with future incidents of humiliation. 

In addition, the NSI asked that:

  1. Given the past record of private contractors and the lack of compliance with the law, the University must not privatize regular work of the hostel. 
  2. All past arrears of workers must be settled with immediate effect. 
  3. The minimum wages should be increased to a living wage of Rs. 12,000 per month.
  4. The number of sanitation and housekeeping workers must be increased as they have diminished over the last two years. 
  5. All official communication with workers must be in a language they understand. 
We hope that you will take cognisance of the grave violations of not just the law of the land but also basic tenets of human dignity at stake in this matter and act in a just, non-discriminatory manner.

Delhi University Theka Mazdoor Manch



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