A notification issued by West Bengal’s higher education department regarding appointments of all employees in colleges and universities has triggered a controversy. Several teachers’ associations have expressed outrage over the communication which, apart from other things, also asks to be declared (through medical tests) whether a candidate’s ovaries and uterus are functioning normally or not. There has also been a row over the section that asks aspirants whether they were originally residents of “Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, or any other country”.
In its notification to “all category of employees” who are proposed to be appointed on any post, the state higher education department’s integrated law cell mentions that they should “invariably” complete their police verification and are required to bring a medical report from a “competent medical board”.
The notification (no. 64L/OM-164L/2018, dated February 24, 2020) reads: “Police verification and ‘medical report’ is mandatory for all. The authority of concerned Colleges or Universities shall however, initially issue a provisional appointment letter to the incumbent concerned with a rider that such appointment is subjected to successful verification of personal antecedents by appropriate police authorities and successful medical examination by competent Medical Board in due course. However, confirmation of service shall be withheld till receipt of report of police verification and medical examination, even after completion of usual period of probation.”
The notification was issued by Harisadhan Das, joint secretary, West Bengal government.
General secretary of the Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association (JUTA), Partha Pratim Ray, said, “This notification is further evidence of the complete curtailment of the autonomy of institutions of higher education by the state government. We strongly condemn and protest such imposition, especially since these two conditions (police verification and medical examination) have no connection with the academic competence and ability of individuals, which should be the only criteria for appointments to teaching posts in colleges and universities.”
The details to be filled up for medical verification are equally insulting, said Ray. “What does the functioning of a candidate's ovaries and uterus, and the certification of their normalcy, have to do with educational achievement and teaching abilities? This not only demeans women but also gives cause for surprise in a state whose chief minister is herself a woman,” Ray said. “Also, it is asking for height without shoes. Can you believe this? How could such absurd questions be the criteria for getting a permanent job? This is a direct, brutal insult to those individuals who have, till now, been held in the highest esteem by ordinary members of the public and casts suspicion on all members of the teaching profession.”
The JUTA also wants to know why a law enforcement agency should be tasked with the responsibility of verifying the antecedents of teachers.
“Those who aspire to teach in colleges and universities have to submit proof of their educational qualifications in detail and also demonstrate that these qualifications were earned from recognised institutions when they apply for jobs. The progression in education already has several checks and balances in place to ensure that no fraudulent practices can be indulged in by those who aspire to teach. The format appended to the notification gives responsibilities to the police to not only verify details regarding birth and residence, but also the educational qualifications of aspirants (point 11, Schedule I Verification Roll),” Ray said. “Further, what is the justification for asking candidates if they were originally residents of ‘Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, or any other country’? This echoes the motives behind the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, which casts doubt on the status of all citizens of India. We call for the immediate withdrawal of this insulting and authoritarian notification and demand an apology from the state government.”
When contacted, Bengal Higher Education Minister Partha Chatterjee refused to comment.