For 31-year-old Sneha Khinnavar, signing the suicide letter along with seven other guest lecturers was an act of reiterating her contribution to society as a woman.
For the last seven years, she has been a guest lecturer at the Government Degree College in Chikkodi, Belagavi district. Recently, she and seven other lecturers of the college decided to write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi informing him about the situation of guest faculty in Karnataka’s colleges. In the letter, they said they would commit suicide in the premises of the mini Vidhan Soudha built in the district.
It was the decision of the government to recruit degree college teachers on the basis of a common entrance test, that pushed them into writing the letter.
Asked why the test was a problem, she said: “Why should we prove ourselves each time? We (guest lecturers) have passed NET, or SET, or we have MPhil or PhDs. Every time they changed the rules we got ourselves qualified.
She says that each time the government asked us to obtain a higher qualification, they had: first it was NET, then MPhil and PhD. “Now they are asking us to do a normal PhD. How can a person with a full-time job take time off to do a regular PhD with course work? If they want teachers, can’t the department consider teachers with over a decade of experience? Are we worthless?” she asks.
There are over 14,000 guest lecturers in Karnataka’s 411 first grade degree colleges while there are 4,800 permanent teaching staff. “Government colleges run on the guest faculties because there aren’t half as many permanent lecturers as guest lecturers.”
Like many other guest lecturers, Sneha has stuck on to the job though the salaries have often been delayed. The guest lecturers get their salaries as a lump sum each year. This time, she got her salary after a two-month delay. But sometimes, she’s had to wait for a year to receive the amount.
She says that they are deeply hurt that no government official or elected representative even responded to them, let alone meet them when they went on a 35-day boycott of classes in January.
“They just sent us back saying they would look into the issue, but they are just words and no action is taken. Isn’t it better to die than to survive this torture?” she says.
Asked what her family thought of her decision to sign the suicide letter, she said: “We live in a male-dominated society. They asked me to drop it.”
Sneha says her husband owns a business and that the family does not need her earnings to make ends meet. “This (job) is my choice. Once we are educated, should we not make use of that education? I want to serve my students, share my knowledge. I want to contribute to society. I want to stand on my own feet,” she says.
Earlier, women were confined to housework and the kitchen. “Now it is not so. We shouldn’t let our children grow up with (regressive) ideas? Both men and women should be given the opportunity to serve the society. Why should we not give something back to society? Why should we not share our views with the world?”
Even though her family isn’t exactly supportive of her decision to sign the suicide letter, Sneha is determined to fight it out with the government. “I contribute to this society. They cannot take away from me.