Reflections on the Death of a Philosopher Colleague – A Tribute in Exclamation Marks

Samarveer Singh

The message flashed on my phone informing death of a Delhi University, Philosophy Assistant Professor, Samarveer Singh ‘by suicide’ in his rented accommodation near the University!

I did not know Samarveer. But that is not important!

I was surprised, why would an Assistant Professor with Delhi University, (the second-best job in India, the first being Indian Army), employed with presumably the second-best college of a top University commit suicide?

Then I realised. I had missed, the word – “Ad hoc”-the curse of the corporatisation of education in the name of liberalism, globalization, and Americanisation!

It was reported that soon-to-be Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Samerveer, was teaching Philosophy for six years in the Hindu college and was sacked in early February, by a selection committee comprising about half a dozen, PhDs!

In the aftermath of his departure, Samarveer may be adjectivized as a coward by the general populace in general and new appointees in particular!

But Samerveer was not a coward that he left his profession and the temporal abode!

Wronged Academics

I can say so because I left the profession in similar circumstances and believe that I was neither a coward nor an incompetent researcher and teacher.

Nor was Samarveer an incompetent teacher as evidenced by his 21 colleague’s eulogy, shared on social media.

Samarveer represents that stellar breed of brilliant scholars who are star teachers, intensely admired by the students and colleagues. A quiet, prolific reader and deep, original thinker, Samarveer was often seen reading in a corner of the otherwise noisy staff room of Hindu College. A thorough gentleman with smiling face and polite demeanour….”

BBC report quoted one of his students comparing him with Jean-Paul Sartre!

Samarveer fell prey to a tainted and rotten recruitment system under the nose of our supreme leaders many of them come from the same process!

Sadly, it is an anecdotal truth (for lack of a scientific or academic) that out of about ten thousand Delhi University teachers, a majority might have felt wronged while dealing with the institution sometime or other without recourse to a redressal.

These intellectuals are forced to accept such humiliations as an existential reality at the expense of what Nathaniel Brandan calls, invaluable self-esteem, which not only affects their lives but also ripples through classrooms and society at large like thermodynamic laws enfeebling the Ideal India!

It is very likely, Samarveer might not have compromised mortgaging his self-esteem. In return, he received dismissal from service sliding from chronic insecurity (ad hoc are always at the mercy of two masters -subject head and college principal) into what William Styron described as “Darkness Visible”, i.e., deep depression!

This is not to analyse the sad incident clinically but to empathise with a bright man who had a hunger for education and a passion for teaching to realise a vision of reality with the next generations. Otherwise, what is the learning for? That’s why people choose to become academics till they are betrayed for reasons other than knowledge pushing them the wayside like Samarveer!

Conflict of Interest

The concept of conflict of interest in college selection committees across India is conveniently put under the carpet.

The argument that it is incompatible with our, ‘Mai- Bap, patronising’ system is not only an intellectual dishonesty but also a serious misdemeanour damaging lives!

Samarveer could not withstand the legal tyranny of the selection committee which in most colleges is a den of bygone small-time political wood, too petty to see beyond their noses and have little idea of education, leave alone higher education!

The same is the case with the university head of departments, who being the fulcrum of the system, gets transformed overnight into the God from a petty, angel for the research students who are eying a career in their footsteps.

For example, a political philosophy professor at the university, who used to join me for a coffee in the campus canteen, refused to recognise me when he became the head of the department. On one occasion he reprimanded me so rudely that I began thinking about a different profession and country. My female friend who witnessed the incident said goodbye to academics and became a financial journalist!

Need for a Rational Approach

So, when Hindu’s selection committee met on 9th February 2023, it sacked Samarveer who was the only internal candidate teaching for six years, while there were plenty of vacant posts in the department!

There is nothing wrong with being sacked if one lacks competence in one’s research and teaching area. But not receiving any feedback or reasoning post dismissal is not only humiliating but also like entering into a closed tunnel!

If the content and delivery of lectures or the standard ‘employability’ skills suffer from gaps one may work and sharpen them, enabling one to present themselves to the new selection committee with a fact sheet demonstrating what professional development they have achieved and why they have a rightful claim now.

It is no less than a national shame that our brightest minds, the research scholars across the country do not deserve this modicum of fairness!

One is not envious of new appointees. But worse is that, often or rather invariably, the incumbent could be identified and connected with their godfathers, mothers, and uncles in the selection committee, and post-appointments the shameless open secret continues to make rounds of staff room in awe and glee till another replaces it!

They say if a country is to be sent downhill, destroy its academics, those who think and create new values. If they are not able to think, what might they create, visualise, or profess? Perhaps, old, stale, dead ideologies of slavery, professing a bright future, drawing from the dark past!

Till the malaise is recognised instead of condoling and condoning and is acted decisively against replacing it with fair play, philosophers will continue to die or dump academics as the case may be!

Pushkar Raj is a Melbourne-based Researcher, Author


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