Anantnag/Kashmir: Mohammad Tahir, 36, completed his bachelor’s degree from Aligarh Muslim University in 2008 and returned home to Kashmir the same year to a festive mood.
His father, a shopkeeper, was the sole breadwinner for the family of seven, and the family was eager for him to complete his post-graduation and kick off an academic career.
When Tahir arrived in Kashmir, admissions for the year were open in only one university. His mother sold her jewellery to ensure he did not lose a year, and Tahir, then in his early twenties, completed his post-graduation in peace and conflict studies before getting admission to the International University of Japan in Niigata Prefecture in coastal Japan, for a second post-graduate degree in the same subject.
The 2010 rebellion in Kashmir had disturbed most students’ studies, and Tahir felt his education was incomplete, he said, about his decision to travel to Japan.
From Japan he went to Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland, where he pursued a doctoral degree in politics and international relations. On completing his PhD, he found a job as an assistant professor in the same university, where he was contracted to teach politics.
His family was elated, but a year later, in 2020, he was back in India. “Some personal problems compelled me to leave the job and return,” Tahir told Article 14.
Tahir was certain he could find a job as an assistant professor in Kashmir, but to his shock, his academic qualifications were considered inadequate in Kashmir.
Despite having 10 publications by then in reputed international journals (two in peer-reviewed journals) and having passed the national eligibility test (NET, a test conducted on behalf of the University Grants Commission [UGC] to determine the eligibility of Indian nationals for ‘assistant professor’ and ‘junior research fellowship and assistant professor’ in Indian universities and colleges), he was found ineligible for teaching in Kashmir.
More than a year later, Tahir is unemployed, was clinically depressed as his frustration deepened at not being able to restart his teaching career, and he has survived by dipping into his meagre savings and working as a guest faculty member for a couple of months.
The Word That Stops Kashmiri Scholars
The problem was that Tahir’s master’s degree and his doctoral work were in subjects “allied” to courses taught in Kashmir colleges. It is rare for recruitment bodies or colleges/ universities in Kashmir to invite applications from candidates with degrees in “allied” subjects. The norm has been to recruit teachers with a master’s or higher qualification in the very subject to be taught.
In many other parts of India, aspiring teachers can apply for the post of contractual assistant professors in political science, even if their master’s is in an allied subject, such as peace and conflict studies.
Khalid Wasim, an assistant professor in the department of politics and governance at the Central University of Kashmir, the sole university in the region that considers candidates with degrees in “allied” fields eligible for teaching posts, said there was a need to relax the criteria.
“If we look at the UGC guidelines 2018, they consider allied subjects, but here this is not being implemented in the right manner,” said Wasim. “Everyone who takes charge of affairs in the education department defines these rules in their own way, so it has become problematic.”
Wasim said this was “injustice to the students” and a “very discriminatory practice”.
Rohit Kansal, principal secretary to the Kashmir’s government’s higher education department, and professor Mushtaq Ahmad Lone, dean of academics at Cluster University Srinagar, did not respond to queries on the issue.
Eligibility Criteria For Teaching Jobs in Higher Education
The UGC, the national regulatory body for higher education, issues regulations for recruitment to teaching and other posts in higher educational institutions across India.
For the post of an assistant professor, clause 4.1 of the 2018 regulations says candidates with a master‘s degree, with 55% marks (or an equivalent grade in a point scale) in a relevant/ allied subject from an Indian university, or an equivalent degree from an accredited foreign university is eligible to be considered, in addition to either a doctoral degree or a NET/SET (state eligibility test) clearing certificate .
The regulatory body also confers powers to the statutory professional councils and bodies such as the National Council For Teacher Education, the All India Council For Technical Education and others, wherever such bodies exist, to set norms and regulations for direct recruitment of teachers, with some conditions.
Found Ineligible For The Job, After A Year Of Teaching
When Tahir returned from Dublin in 2020, he was among the top 10 qualifiers for a teaching post at a university in Kashmir, and began to teach political science there on contractual employment as an assistant professor.
At the end of the academic year, his contract ended. “The next academic year, I applied for the same post in the same university and was again among the top 10 applicants but was declared ineligible for the post,” Tahir said. “It was written in the remarks that I did not have a master’s degree in political science.”
Tahir said he could not understand how he was ineligible—he had the NET qualification, a double post-graduation in peace and conflict studies and a PhD in politics and international relations, besides several international publications and teaching experience abroad and at the same university where he was applying for the job.
“What makes me ineligible to teach political science?” asked Tahir. “It is my concerned department, my allied department.”
Article 14 accessed the recruitment notifications of the university for the post, for two consecutive academic years. Both times, the university used the word ‘concerned’ department or subject, but not an ‘allied’ one, to refer to degrees required by candidates.
National Policy That Pushes Interdisciplinary Education
In July 2020, India launched a new National Education Policy, replacing the previous National Policy on Education, 1986. Outlining a vision for India’s education system, the new policy tried to promote ‘multidisciplinary education’.
However, for Kashmiris aspiring for employment as assistant professors, including those with doctoral degrees in fields allied to those being taught in local universities, the recruitment criteria directly contradicted this recommended multidisciplinary approach.
According to the NEP, the “fundamental principles” guiding the higher education sector and institutions would include, among other things, “multidisciplinarity and holistic education” across the sciences, social sciences, sports, arts and humanities.
In March 2022, the UGC also released draft guidelines to transform higher education institutions into multidisciplinary institutions. This proposed a collaboration between institutions through clusters, merger of single-stream institutions with multidisciplinary institutions, the addition of new departments such as languages, literature, etc,
“The university that didn’t consider my degrees for the teaching post talks about interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach (to courses) at conferences and seminars, but nobody implements it in their own department,” Tahir said.
As far back as 2009, the Yash Pal Committee report on ‘renovation and rejuvenation of higher education’ said new knowledge and new insights often originated “on the boundaries of disciplines”, and Indian institutions tended to “imprison disciplinary studies in opaque walls”.
Unsympathetic University Officials
On learning he had been found ineligible for the job though he had completed a year’s contract at the same post, Tahir approached the university authorities, “but nobody paid heed”, he said.
Along with two other candidates, he filed an application under the Right To Information (RTI) Act, 2005, in the name of one of the other candidates facing the same problem, with the UGC.
The application sought clarification regarding the eligibility criteria for applying to the post of an assistant professor in political science. The application specifically sought to know if candidates with master’s degrees in peace and conflict studies or doctoral degrees in similar subjects including international relations were eligible for recruitment as assistant professors in political science or other subjects in Kashmir's universities and colleges.
The response to the RTI application asked the applicant to refer to clause 4.1 of the 2018 UGC regulations on minimum qualifications for appointment to posts of teachers and other academic staff in universities and colleges, “which is self-explanatory” and available on the UGC website.
The response said, “Relevance or interdisciplinary nature of subject is left to be decided by the appointing authority concerned with the help of subject experts of concerned/related field.”
Tahir and the two other candidates took this response with their job application to the university authorities. “Nobody paid attention, except one official, who said our case was genuine, but his senior officials didn’t even look at the application,” Tahir said. “They did not show any sympathy, they just looked at our faces… One behaved like a dictator.”
Appeals Have Not Worked
Another candidate for a teaching job, A* completed her MTech degree in hydrology from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee. She also cleared NET, in addition to notching up 10 publications to her name in different journals. She was also a GATE (Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering, conducted jointly by the seven IITs) qualifier.
In October 2017, when the Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission (JKPSC) advertised for recruitment to posts of assistant professor in water management, she applied.
The eligibility for this post was a master’s degree in the ‘relevant’ subject from an Indian university or an equivalent degree from an accredited foreign university with NET/SET or a PhD, besides other terms and conditions.
After three years, the JKPSC responded with a list of deficiencies in the documents of candidates who had applied for the post of assistant professor in water management. In A’s case, the JKPSC remarked that the candidate had completed an MTech in hydrology (surface water) and the candidature would be “subject to clarification from higher education department regarding eligibility”.
A said she was considered ineligible despite her qualification. “Water management is a part of hydrology,” she said, “so I’m surprised why I was not considered eligible for the job.”
Like Tahir, A too began to seek recourse with officials. “I approached the higher authorities concerned regarding the equivalence of the subjects,” she said. “I even appealed to the office of the lieutenant-general and the prime minister’s office, but nothing has happened so far.”
A filed an RTI application with the information officer of the department of higher education. She said she did not get the information she had sought but was instead provided the minutes of an equivalence committee meeting held by the higher education department. The equivalence committee was formed by the local government after receiving several complaints from students about the issue of equivalence of degrees in allied subjects for the purpose of recruitment.
The Emotional Toll
Article 14 accessed the minutes of the meeting held by the higher education department on 10 September 2020. The minutes revealed that discussions had been held earlier on the issue of ‘equivalence’, and that degrees from many universities and some IITs had been declared inequivalent for the posts of assistant professors.
A’s MTech in hydrology and surface water from IIT-Roorkee was not considered equivalent to a master’s in water management.
“This is a high level of injustice and I couldn’t find justice anywhere,” A told Article 14, bursting into tears. “Presently I am working in the private sector at a low position though I have high academic credentials along with a PhD. I also co-authored a book.”
As the days drew on and the winter of 2021 set it, Tahir’s mental health was affected. It had been months of sitting at home, idle. He would think about his degrees and his dream of becoming an assistant professor. “I went into depression, and had to take anti-depressant pills for some time.” He also developed a cardiac niggle and had to consult a cardiologist. He is presently on a month’s course of medications.
Wasted Years, A Second Post-Graduate Degree, Jobless
Javeed bin Nabi, 28, completed his post-graduation in 2018 in international relations (peace and conflict studies) from a university in Kashmir, but began to repent his decision soon after. “Neither could I go for an SET in this subject nor could I apply for a teaching job in Kashmir,” he said.
He added sarcastically that if the university was ready to return the fee, he would return his degree, “because this degree has proved useless to me”.
In 2020, watching his career dreams on the brink of collapse, Nabi chose to apply for another post-graduation, this time in political science.
“I had no option so I was compelled to go for another degree, otherwise I would not be eligible for a teaching post in Kashmir,” he said.
Tahir, still dejected and downcast, said he tries to hope for the best. “I hope the time will come very soon when justice will be delivered and my years of hard work will pay off,” he said.
* A’s name and identity were withheld on her request.
(Saqib Mir is an independent journalist based in Kashmir.)