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A Leader of Teachers

Kumaresh Chakravarty (1933–2017)

M M P Singh (murli.rekha@gmail.com) is former president, Delhi University Teachers’ Association, New Delhi.

Kumaresh Chakravarty was a leader of teachers in Delhi and contributed to democratisation of the teachers’ movement in India.

This article was translated from Hindi by Aunindyo Chakravarty.
 

It was sometime towards the end of August 1967. The assembly hall of Delhi’s Hansraj College was packed with excited teachers. The Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) was holding its routine biannual general body meeting. But this one was different, it was going to change the history of teachers’ politics forever.

Till then, the DUTA used to be a “pocket” institution, controlled by a small group of powerful people in the university. There were no elections and a token general body meeting was called every two years, to ratify whatever the small group had decided. At that time, the DUTA was run by the pro-vice chancellor, R C Majumdar, the principal of Kirori Mal College, Sarup Singh and the principal of Hansraj College, Shanti Narayan. On that fateful day in August 1967, the team led by the pro-vice chancellor tried to get the same lot of professors and principals to be elected again to the top posts in DUTA.

However, a young teacher of Bengali literature, Kumaresh Chakravarty, barely 34 years old, decided to oppose this autocratic system. He got up and demanded an open election and his fiery speeches on that day inspired the teachers who had assembled there to join the revolt. The staid proceedings of the DUTA had suddenly been disrupted by a new democratic force and after much ruckus and debate, the powers agreed to hold an election. On that day, the teachers from the various colleges and departments of Delhi University elected N P Gupta, a reader in the Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Research Institute, as their president. Chakravarty emerged as the clear leader of young teachers, and he too was elected to the DUTA’s executive team.

Within two years, the entire nature of the DUTA was radically reformed by the collective leadership of the executive team. The DUTA launched a new programme to democratise the administrative structure of Delhi University. Simultaneously, a new system called “running grade” was launched that brought about a parity in pay scales between university teachers and Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officers. This system stipulated that every teacher—from lecturer to professor—would get the same salary and allowances that an IAS officer is given.

The teachers’ movement that took place between 1967 and 1969 under the leadership of Gupta, culminated in the DUTA election held in August 1971. There were two candidates fighting for the post of president. On one side, the democratic, left and secular forces were being represented by Chakravarty. And on the other, O P Kohli was representing the teachers affiliated with the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Chakravarty won the election by a massive majority, and most of the executive posts were won by teachers who represented left democratic politics.

Chakravarty’s tenure began with a struggle against the autocratic rule of principals and department heads, especially because, at that time, the managements of Salwan College and Shyamlal College were planning to sack several teachers. Chakravarty played a decisive role in uniting all teachers in the council and general body to launch a democratic struggle against the growing autocratic tendencies in these two colleges. Along with that, he launched a popular movement to democratise the university administration and implement “running grade” for teachers. Chakravarty’s rousing speeches united teachers across the university to participate in the democratic struggle. To ensure that the teacher’s movement would not get isolated, the DUTA joined hands with the karamchari (workers’) unions in the university and took up their causes as well.

In neighbouring Haryana, schoolteachers had launched an agitation, which was being crushed by the Bansi Lal government. Chakravarty persuaded Delhi University teachers to join the Haryana schoolteachers in their struggle against the state government’s repression. Both Haryana schoolteachers and Delhi University teachers courted arrest and ended up together in Tihar Jail. This united struggle made the DUTA the most talked about force amongst all the people’s movements that spread across North India in the post-1960s phase.

This is the time when the DUTA managed to put pressure on the vice chancellor and ensure that no teacher could be sacked without prior permission from the vice chancellor. This was a huge victory, but between 1971 and 1973, the central government was conspiring to undermine the unity shown by university teachers. A bill was tabled in Parliament, to replace the teachers’ union with a “College Council” and to regulate their salary and conditions of employment. The University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Ministry of Education began talks with the DUTA, but they failed to resolve the issue Chakravarty united all teachers and launched an agitation demanding the withdrawal of the college council bill, and used every method of protest—strike, dharna, marches, hunger strike—in which teachers, especially women, participated in large numbers. Finally, the central government had to bend and the bill was withdrawn.

Chakravarty also took up the demand for limiting the tenure and introducing the principle of rotation of department heads in the university and in colleges. This agitation was especially popular amongst young teachers and research scholars. Finally, the teachers union was victorious and the principle of rotation was implemented. Chakravarty’s inspiring leadership, which ended the despotism of department heads, is remembered by everyone till this day.

Inspirational Leadership

After the end of the Emergency in 1977, Kohli won the DUTA elections, but teachers opposed to the right wing, communal forces, united and elected Chakravarty as secretary. Kumaresh continued to inspire teachers to fight for their rights, and despite the unresponsive right-wing leadership of the DUTA, he managed to launch a successful agitation for the rights of temporary and ad hoc teachers. In the 12 years from 1967 to 1979, Chakravarty not only contributed to the development of the DUTA, but also of democratic movements across North India.

Chakravarty was just 38 years old, when he was elected president of the DUTA. He was born in August 1933, and he did his Masters in Bengali literature from Calcutta University in 1959, where he topped his batch. Between 1959 and 1963, he taught at City College in Kolkata. In 1963, he was appointed as lecturer in Bengali in Delhi University’s Zakir Husain College. He retired in August 1998.

Chakravarty had a deep interest in various fields of knowledge. He wrote regular papers and articles in the fields of economics, political science and sociology —he did not restrict himself to literature alone. That is why he was able to end the hegemony of the elite English-speaking professors and principals of Delhi University. The power of the college principals further reduced with the introduction of “staff councils.” Chakravarty played a key role in conceptualising and implementing the system of “principal-in-council,” which ended the autonomous dominance of the principal and replaced it with the collective decision-making of teachers in every academic matter. The posts of the head of department in university faculties and incharge in colleges became rotational, ensuring that everyone got a chance to take up academic responsibilities.

Chakravarty’s imaginative leadership helped establish a left-democratic orientation within the teachers’ movement. That is why, even after him, leftist candidates have kept winning elections in the DUTA and have maintained the democratic character of the movement.

Updated On : 15th Jan, 2018

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