Schools Suffer as Bundelkhand Teachers Protest Supreme Court Order

Protests against the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding a 2015 high court verdict that shiksha-mitras are not asli teachers have brought rural UP to a halt.

According to rough statistics, the country’s most populous state has over 1,72,000 shiksha-mitras. Credit: Khabar Lahariya

On July 25, the Supreme Court ruling upholding the high court verdict on shiksha-mitras plunged UP into an abyss of veritable chaos. Almost overnight, protestors took to the streets across the country’s most populous state, and while it meant traffic jams for urban office-goers, in rural parts of UP, life came to a standstill.

According to rough statistics, the country’s most populous state has over 1,72,000 shiksha-mitras, all of whom were waiting for the Supreme Court to overturn the verdict that the high court had passed in 2015 – a decision that stayed the inclusion of shiksha-mitras as teachers proper.

In rural Bundelkhand, Banda and Mahoba saw a fair number of the shiksha-mitras take to the streets, participating in large-scale demonstrations against the verdict. Schools have been the worst affected, with most shutting down. Several have shut down indefinitely, as of July 31 – declared an unofficial holiday across the state. In a country where Kendriya schools run on account of shiksha-mitras, where the education of thousands of children often boils down to one teacher, this is a very serious state of affairs. The irony, as with most if not all government directives, is unmissable: Shiksha-mitras, or para-teachers, are appointed precisely to meet the lack of qualified teachers. There are counterparts in Maharashtra and Chennai as well, and their salaries are considerably lower than those of teachers – they are paid nearly one-tenth of a teacher’s salary. Until a few days ago, the “adjustment” of a shiksha-mitra as an asli teacher was taken for granted.

As we mingled amongst the protestors, the rage was palpable. Shailendra Kumari in Banda makes no attempt to hide her disgust, “What about those who have already gone ahead of us, the previous shiksha-mitras who are headmasters today? Have they been removed? No! They are earning Rs 74,000 a month. But suddenly, we have no value? Why have we been singled out? Is that fair?”

In Naraini, Mukesh makes a point, “The basis on which this usual adjustment has been cancelled is invalid. We have 16-17 years of experience, is that such a small time? Aur ab hum sadkon par aa jaaye?” Shashikala adds, “Obviously, we’re going to starve.”

Ever since the verdict was upheld and officially announced, shiksha-mitras have been in chakka jams and dharnas galore. There have been reports of mass fainting, threats of suicide and demands for ichchca mrityu. Some parts of UP have also called for stronger on-the-ground mobilisation, channelling “the Jallikattu episode of Tamil Nadu” – to not give up until the state is forced to revoke a final order. In this case, the order states that all shiksha-mitras must take a mandatory exam (two attempts are allowed) in order to be promoted as teachers – a requirement that protestors insist is not a legitimate or fair imposition.

There are saner voices too – those asking everyone to do the mathematics. A shiksha-mitra is paid close to Rs 4,000 a month and once “upgraded” as a teacher, he/she is appointed at a take-home salary of approximately Rs 35,000 a month. Mahoba’s Vimal Tripathi starts by telling us that he respects the court’s decision, even though it is “unfortunate.” But, he elaborates, “People are now in their 40’s – we can’t suddenly be evicting them from their jobs to start from scratch.”

Tripathi is firm about the shiksha-mitra stance. “We want to say to the state government that our honor should be returned to us. If our demands are not accepted, then we shall move in large numbers towards the legislative assembly.”

Meanwhile, in higher circles, the usual drama unfolds. State governor Ram Naik declared in Rampur while addressing a rally of protestors that he would personally take the matter to the chief minister’s office. Yogi Adityanath, on the other hand, has already proclaimed it all a done deal, washing his hands off a verdict that has come straight from the Supreme Court. And of course, Akhilesh Yadav, who arguably seems to have reared his head for the first time since the election debacle, is leaving no stone unturned in politicizing it. Business as usual in the halls of power, of course.

On the streets though, in real life, schools are closed. And Shailendra Kumari has the last word, “Chakki mein peeskar humein pee gaye hai. We are left with no options now.”

This piece first appeared on Khabar Lahariya. It has been edited to meet style guidelines.

Khabar Lahariya is a rural, video-first digital news organisation with an all-women network of reporters in eight districts of Uttar Pradesh.