Tough lesson

Print edition : October 10, 2008

Haryana: The polices unprovoked attack on agitating guest teachers creates widespread resentment.

in Rohtak and Jind

A distressed colleague watches as Raj Rani, the guest teacher who was fired upon by the police, lies in a pool of blood in Rohtak.-PTI

GLOOM overwhelms house No. 4956 in Sector 11 at Urban Estate in Jind town. A whitish canopy flutters atop. At the porch, the ground is covered with white sheets. Inside the house, women beat their chests and wail. They are mourning the death of 27-year-old Raj Rani, one of the victims of the Haryana Polices high-handed action against agitating guest teachers and lecturers.

Over a thousand teachers from all over the State converged in Rohtak on September 7, a particularly hot and humid day, determined to submit a memorandum to Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who was in town that day, demanding that the government absorb the 14,000 guest teachers in the existing vacancies in government schools.

The protest had been planned well in advance and the Rohtak district administration was aware of this. However, when the agitating teachers insisted on being allowed to meet the Chief Minister or his son, who represents the Rohtak constituency in the Lok Sabha, the administration stood firm on its decision not to let them have their way.

As the crowd swelled, the police started a lathi charge and then opened fire without any provocation. With the police raining bullets and using their canes brutally, mayhem followed. Half the teachers were women, but there were no women police personnel present on the scene.

Initially, the administration tried to maintain that Raj Rani succumbed to bullets fired by anti-social elements who had allegedly infiltrated the protest action. The post-mortem report belied these claims. Raj Ranis death was caused by heavy bleeding following injuries caused by plastic bullets fired from a very close range. A postgraduate in economics, Raj Rani was a guest lecturer in a secondary school at Samlo Kala village. On the day of the agitation, she told her mother it was important for her to join the agitation demanding the regularisation of her job and promised that she would be back in the evening.

We never discouraged her. We knew she was going for a legitimate cause, said Raj Ranis mother, who is also a teacher in a government school.

Raj Ranis father, Randhir Singh, a drawing teacher in a government girls school, recalled the horrors he witnessed when he went to the Post-Graduate Institute hospital in Chandigarh to see his daughter: In all my teaching life, I have never seen the administration treat teachers this way. I know this has been their attitude towards the poor or the industrial working class, but I witnessed such horrors in the hospital that I forgot all about my own loss. The police beat up even people who had come to donate blood or enquire about their relatives. I lost my cool. I began abusing the police.

The scene of the agitation presented the picture of a war zone, with teachers running helter-skelter to escape the blows and bullets, some even leaving behind their footwear. The police registered cases for various offences against 33 teachers and some of the drivers who had ferried them to Rohtak.

The teachers broke down as they spoke of the polices ruthlessness in not even allowing them to help Raj Rani who had fallen down after being hit by bullets. At a press conference organised by the State unit of the All India Democratic Womens Association (AIDWA), they said the protesters had at first assembled at a park. The police drove them out of the place and asked them to hold their meeting at a different venue.

Our leaders tried to convince the police that they were teachers and as such would not damage property or create mayhem. They pleaded to be allowed to meet the Chief Minister, said Suman, an English teacher and Raj Ranis colleague.

The police smashed the vehicles in which the teachers had arrived, thereby ensuring that they had no means of going back. The drivers of these private vehicles were intimidated and autorickshaws were told not to entertain the requests of any of the teachers.

The teachers said the policemen physically attacked them and used abusive language when they sought to help their injured colleagues.

The police in action against the agitating teachers in Rohtak on September 7.-PTI

Jagmati Sangwan, president of the State AIDWA unit, said the police action was a ploy to demoralise the teachers in every manner. AIDWA has demanded an independent judicial inquiry into the police excesses. The administration was fully aware that there was going to be a [protest] programme and that women would be present. Why werent any policewomen present? she asked. Sangwan said that it was difficult to describe the manner in which the women had been humiliated. She said that even in the hospital, the police used invectives against the injured, adding that the idea was to dissuade women teachers from attending street protests in future. It is our experience that every time male police personnel are posted on such occasions, the democratic right of women to protest is attacked, she said.

The appointment of guest teachers is not unique to Haryana but the State polices action on the agitating teachers is without precedent. The teachers, appointed on a contractual basis, are known by fancy names in different States Shiksha Karmis, Shiksha Sahayaks, Vidya Sahayaks, Andariki Vidya volunteers, Shikshak Sevak and Shiksha Mitra. These contractual teachers, more commonly known as para-teachers, have always hoped that they will be absorbed at some stage as regular teachers.

Regularisation of service and continuation of the contract during the examination period have been some of the major demands of these teachers. Whenever examinations approach, their temporary contract is terminated and regular teachers are put on examination duty. Deprived of an income during the period of examinations and during vacations, guest teachers are forced to seek alternative jobs. Low salaries, combined with the temporary nature of the job, have been the major source of discontent among para-teachers.

Agitations over issues relating to their emoluments have taken place in Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan in the recent past. In Haryana, there is a growing resentment against the governments attempt to cut costs under the para-teacher scheme. The broad demand is that even if teachers are employed on contract, the benefits of leave, maternity leave, pension and provident fund cannot be denied to them.

The one thing that is common to all of them across the country is that they do not enjoy the benefits given to regular teachers and are not assured permanency of employment. In the case of Haryana, the guest teachers, many of whom hold M.Phils or doctoral degrees, were assured that their jobs would be regularised. Recently, the government agreed to provide the teachers holiday wages for August 15, January 26 and October 2. Guest teachers appointed in the primary sections are given a fixed salary of Rs.295 for a day of work, while those teaching senior classes are paid by the hour or the number of classes they take. The rate per period for secondary sections is Rs.70 a class and Rs.105 for the senior secondary sections. The minimum a guest teacher earns is Rs.1,500 and the maximum is Rs.6,000 a month. Only a handful manages to earn Rs.6,000.

Satpal Siwach, president of the Haryana Rajkiya Adhyapak Sangh, one of the major government teacher organisations in the State, said that the policy of recruiting guest teachers was introduced in 2005. The government recruited the teachers on the promise that they would be absorbed in regular service. But no new regular appointments were made since then, he said. The entitlements, if any, were meagre. Only recently, the government agreed to grant a months maternity leave to women guest teachers following a prolonged agitation, he said. There are approximately 30,000 vacancies in government schools. The teachers argue that since only 10,000 regular appointments have been made until now, the remaining posts can be filled by absorbing the 14,000 guest teachers.

Siwach said that since 1985 teacher organisations have frequently approached the courts for regularisation of tenures and fixation of salaries. They have met with some success on this front. There is, however, an opinion that the government is not interested in regularising guest teachers because it wants to do away with the government school system altogether and hand over school education to private operators.

The District Information System of Education data developed by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration suggests that there were 514,000 para teachers working in 2006-07.

The guest teacher agitation in Haryana is the result of a government policy gone awry. Cost-cutting measures, in the name of improving the quality of education, are not without their attendant problems. The resentment among the teachers has taken various forms in several States and is bound to affect the quality of education across the country.

The attack on the guest teachers drew reprobation from across the State.The Haryana Sarva Karamchari Sangh and the Karamchari Mahasangh gave a call to their members to take to the streets. For two days, local newspapers carried reports from almost every district about the protests launched by these two organisations. Political parties demanded that the Chief Minister step down for the dastardly attack on teachers.

Incidentally, the State government has declared the year 2008 Shiksha Sudhar Varsha.

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