No Banner For Samarveer

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

As a full month draws to a close since the tragic death of philosopher and teacher Samarveer, the words and the attached article below, supremely inadequate though they might be as tokens of remembrance, are nonetheless by way of a small tribute for him. I shall be grateful if the mail and the attachment below could be further circulated.

Thank you,

Mukul Mangalik. May 26, 2023


‘Away up on the brow of the hill was a lone banner, moving slowly over the heads of the vast crowds…There was no band, no fuss, just a banner like scores of others…The banner with its black drape had been carried in respect and honour of men who were lost in the great disaster, and in that same respect and honour it was carried and greeted through its long day…“It was met by all the expressions of sympathy and love that the good hearts of Durham could command. It was met with bared heads, with cheers and with silence and tears, and our men will never have a better memorial than the one which lives in the hearts of Durham mining folk. Men and women fondled the cloth as though they were trying to shake hands with the men who gave their lives”.’

The above excerpt, taken from the ‘Durham Miners’ Association General Secretary’s Annual Report’, 1952, as quoted in the British Film Institute (BFI) booklet on the Bill Morrison film, ‘The Miners’ Hymns’, presents a moving portrait of gestures honouring 83 miners who died in an accident at Easington colliery. This emotional farewell and commemoration happened during the 1951 Durham Miners’ Gala that took place soon after two major accidents in Durham, North-east England. The Gala itself, or the ‘Big Meeting’ as miners preferred calling it, held annually since July 1871, was a political event and social festival rolled into one and easily the biggest trade-union gathering in Europe.

The Gala, the BFI booklet goes on to say, also became an occasion to remember and honour miners who had died in accidents over the previous year. Lodges carried their banners draped in black as a mark of respect for members who had lost their lives, while speeches were preceded by the playing of Gresford or ‘The Miners’ Hymn’, composed in 1936 by Robert Saint, a miner, in commemoration of the 266 miners who had lost their lives in the mining disaster at Gresford, Wales, in 1934. The capacity of the ‘Big Meeting’ to stir souls rested as much in such gestures and emotions of commemoration as in the power of its politics and festivity combined. As a regular Gala attendee put it, ‘It stirred the insides of your soul and you didn’t know whether to laugh or burst out crying all day. It’s part of our heritage, that. Part of the working class. Part of our lives. It was something we always treasured’.

Samarveer was not a miner, nor was his death an accident. He was a teacher at Hindu College, University of Delhi. Yet, as with miners’ accidents which are never just accidents, he too appears to have been pushed to the unforgiving edges of a precipice by conditions and feelings of extreme and relentless precariousness, abandonment, disillusionment, despair and repressed anger that were institutionally forced upon him by years of working in ‘ad-hoc’ capacity, followed by his cruel ejection from his teaching position. These, together perhaps, with the lack of acknowledgment for work done by him and the accompanying humiliation, suffocation, pain, loneliness, desolation, social death, sadness and emptiness thrust upon him, compounded by the veritable collapse of solidarities, probably brought him to the point, where holding on became more unbearable than the terror of letting go of the fraying threads of hope that must have been barely anchoring him to dear life.

Yet, precisely because of the way he died, and because the overwhelming conditions and feelings that likely triggered his suicide are shared today by thousands of teachers at Delhi University (DU), either already uprooted from their jobs or living in real daily fear of this terrifying future, Samarveer’s death is crying out for heartfelt collective grieving. Protest rooted in anger alone, will, in this instance perhaps, not suffice. On its own, as argued by Tapati Guha- Thakurta, rage might in fact, deplete and debilitate. Combined with sincere collective rituals of remembrance and grief however, together with steadfast introspection and the refusal to forget and move on, it can, in all likelihood, draw us closer to the full enormity of the tragedy that stalked Samarveer to his death and is haunting the everyday lives of the many ‘ad-hocs’ at DU, whether still in uncertain harness or already removed from their jobs.

This might in turn provide fresh strength to the empathy, conviction, endurance and patience urgently required to keep demanding justice for Samarveer while simultaneously ‘listening to the voices of all ad-hoc teachers, documenting what they have experienced together with the histories of the precious work they have done, and standing in solidarity with their piercing cry for ‘permanence’ so that nobody and nothing is forgotten, justice and rights not crushed, dreams not wasted and hope not torn to shreds’.

It is sad that at a moment such as this, working people at DU no longer seem to have either their very own GBMs to turn to or anything else akin to the heart- warming miners’ annual ‘Big Meeting’ with its banners, music, marches and speeches. A banner draped in black, ‘a lone banner moving slowly over the heads of the vast crowds’ in memory and honour of Samarveer would have filled a gaping hole in protests against his death. It could have also served as a powerful symbol of our acknowledgment of the work done by all ad-hoc teachers and of our commitment to fight the injustices wrecking their lives by standing true to thoughts and sentiments evoked by good old slogans such as ‘An Injury to One is a Concern of All’, ‘There is no Safe Side but the Side of Truth’, ‘Each for All, All for Each’ and ‘We Unite to Assist Each Other’.

In the absence of such a banner at such a gathering, please find attached the slightly longer, unabridged version of my article, From the Frying Pan into the Fire: Ad-hoc Teachers at Delhi University, published in The Wire on January 3, 2023. The words above and the article attached below, inadequate though they might be, are nonetheless by way of a small tribute for Samarveer, a gesture of respect towards the work of all ad-hoc teachers at DU and an urgent appeal to halt the destruction of their lives.

Mukul Mangalik
(Former teacher of History, Ramjas College, University of Delhi)

May 26, 2023