Around four lakh contractual school teachers of Bihar, locally known as niyojit shikshak have waged a long struggle, with the primary demands of permanent appointments, equal pay scale for a long time.
Pehaps sensing that the teachers are fed up with the incumbent government, chief minister Nitish Kumar announced a 22% pay rise around two months ago, with one eye on the polls.
Under the revised rules, the state government has hiked the basic salary of contractual teachers by 15%, which adds up to 22% after including the contribution for the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF). The pay hike will come into effect from April 2021.
Teachers’ unions across the state are not impressed, lambasting the move as a poll gimmick and that the state government is ‘shamelessly’ misleading its 1.4 million voters.
In addition to the salary hike, the government has proposed a paternity leave of 15 days to male teachers after a minimum service of three years. Earlier, the leave was only approved after seven years of service.
Meanwhile, the existing maternity leave period has also been increased from 135 to 180 days. In addition, a slew of other benefits has also been announced, including transfer and promotion. There is also a provision of employment on compassionate basis in the event of the death of a teacher.
However, contractual teachers are extremely irate over the proposed service rules. On September 5, the school teachers observed Teachers’ Day as Sankalp Diwas and Apman Diwas, wearing black badges to protest.
In a bid to take advantage of the situation, RJD leader and chief ministerial candidate of the ‘grand alliance’ Tejashwi Yadav, stoked the issue after his nomination. He said if his party forms the government, contractual teachers “would get the same pay for the same work”.
Justifying the demands of the contractual teachers, Yadav alleged that Nitish Kumar had manipulated school teachers for electoral gains and ordered them to be lathi-charged when they were struggling for their rights. He even threatened them in his poll speeches, Yadav claimed.
Speaking to The Wire, Sanjay Kumar Rai, district president of the Transformational Elementary Teachers Association, Darbhanga, slammed the government for its double standards over the move.
“We have been duped by the government once again,” said Rai. “This government wants to leave us mentally paralysed. Are we supposed to teach the students or keep struggling for our livelihood?”
“The government has come up with a ‘Chinese pay-scale’,” says Rai, using a phrase popular among teachers. “We are still being paid according to it.”
Questioning the intention of the government, he says, “We are paid a salary which is even less than a fourth grade government employee. There is no bonus for us. The government has merely fooled us. By announcing a ‘Chinese pay-scale’ and service conditions in political rallies, and claiming that they have facilitated the teachers, the government is misguiding the public and earning false appreciation.”
Referring to the revised service conditions as a mockery of teachers, he says, “The only announcement made by the government regarding the PF was that the teachers will get this benefit from September 1, 2020. Whereas, we should backpay, but the government is compelling us to write the joining date as September 1, 2020. I joined in 2003, but we have been cheated.”
When asked about the provident fund, he calls the government shameless. The Patna high court had passed an order that said even the contractual teachers will get the benefits of the EPF, but the government did not comply, he says. A contempt petition was filed against the government, but it has continued to defy the court’s verdict. After the court issued summons a second time, the government added the EPF in service conditions and is taking the credit for it.
The transfer rules are also incoherent, Sanjay says. “The matter of transfer on the orders of the panchayat is a mutual issue. If we want to be transferred somewhere, but the other person does not want it, what kind of transfer would it be?”
“We are aware of these issues and the government’s failures and have decided about our future,” he says curtly.
Condemning the new service conditions, Sanjay says, “Many of our colleagues retired from service but they didn’t get any benefit at all. It means we get paid only as long as we work. Once it is over, there is neither a pension nor any retirement plan.”
‘Will have an impact on the poll outcome’
The union’s district secretary Mohammad Kalim claims that the anger of teachers is going to have an impact on the poll outcome. He believes that the incumbent government is bound to fall owing to disgruntled teachers.
Talking about equal work and equal pay, he says, “After the fraud of 2020, the contractual teachers have resolved that if the government can move the Supreme Court against us, it does not care about our future.”
“When the matter of equal work and equal pay was in the high court, the government had claimed that it would comply with the court’s order. But once the verdict was passed, the government changed its stance,” Kalim clarifies.
“The government is insensitive to our demands and has never supported teachers’ rights,” he says. “We struggled in 2008, then in 2009 and since then, we have been constantly fighting. But only a paltry increment of Rs 1.000 or Rs 2,000 was granted. We have neither been treated with the respect we deserve nor given the rightful salary.”
Meanwhile, contract teacher Anamika claims, “You will witness our anger in the poll results. No one can stay in power after ignoring the legitimate demands (of the electorate).”
Anamika blames the government for the poor education system. She says, “We are made to do everything other than teaching. I joined in 2015 and have understood by now that education is not the government’s priority.”
“Whether it is the coronavirus pandemic, a flood or some other disaster, the government makes us do all sorts of jobs on working days. We do not mind it, but through our right to vote, we will express our opinion,” she adds.
“I believe that schools exist only on paper. As a result, the morale of both the teachers and students has slumped. The children want to study and the teachers want to teach but there is so much extra workload that no time is left,” she adds further.
Commenting on the government’s announcement, she says, “How can this government treat us honourably when it views us as servants and slaves? What can be the level of education in a state where the teacher is not respected? We have struggled a lot for our demands but have only been exploited. Teachers have been persecuted a lot.”
Speaking of equal work equal pay, she says, “We neither work less hard nor are less qualified. In fact, some of us are even trained. But it does not matter. Even the meagre sum that we get is not paid on time. The situation is same even during the festive season.”
‘Indifferent to our situation’
The union’s district vice president Santosh Kumar Das plainly accuses the state government of misappropriation. “The Bihar government was allocated a huge fund to be used in our favour by the Centre. But the money was spent on schemes to give bicycles, dresses and scholarships. We were paid Rs 4,000 or Rs 5,000 only. The matter came to light when the Centre cut back the funds and proclaimed that the money was meant for the teachers. Following this, we took to the streets and launched our struggle.”
Targeting the chief minister, he says, “Nitishji has reiterated in his speeches many times that he cannot approve equal pay, even if it means losing votes. He claims that the education system was destroyed because of the recruitment of ‘unqualified teachers’.”
“Such is the thought-process of a chief minister. And look at the policy – a lockdown is in place, but only for the poor children who have to go to school. There is no lockdown anywhere else, nor any prohibition on crowds or electoral rallies,” he further adds.
Speaking about the condition of the schools, he says, “We are pressurised all the time. Take a look around and you will find a number of dilapidated school buildings, but we are being asked to make arrangements for polling booths, purchase and install lights.”
Calling the government opportunistic, Santosh recounts his experience. “During the floods, we were told to prepare meals. So we did, spending from our own pockets and sometimes by borrowing. But we have not been compensated, neither for the flood nor the quarantine period. Now, a debt of lakhs of rupees has mounted on us and we have to hide our faces from the shopkeepers who lent us the money.”
“The government recently announced in an open letter that they have disbursed the salary for October,” he adds. “After reading about it in the newspapers, the shopkeepers are now pestering us for payment. The fact is that even the salary for September is still pending. This government is not going to last long.”
The government pats its own back even after blaming the teachers, says Santosh. “For them, the teacher is meant to do all sorts of jobs except teaching. They are cashiers when money needs to be disbursed, health workers when medicines need to be given and chefs who provide mid-day meals. Without teachers, no work can get done. But they do not even have a word of consolation for the teachers.”
“It is all bureaucracy,” he adds. “In any department, ‘offerings’ need to be made for getting the work done.”
The union’s district spokesperson Bikram Aditya Jha says, “The issues of the teachers have been aggravated by the government’s actions. Earlier, the guru used to be revered as god. For this government, we deserve no respect.”
He claims that the teachers and their anger will have a clear impact on the mandate and a pro-teacher government will come to power next.
On the government’s promise of equal pay for equal work, he says, “We were appointed to change the current picture as well as the destiny of Bihar. It did change because we managed to enrol more and more students at a time when the number of dropouts was very high. The condition of education improved in Bihar when it was at the bottom in terms of education standard.”
“We struggled for 15 years and the high court gave a verdict in our favour. This needed to be implemented within 90 days and the government should have accepted the order. Instead, the government moved the Supreme Court at the last minute. Its intention is certainly questionable,” Jha says.
A contractual teacher Lallan Paswan says, “They may say whatever they want. But the truth is that we have been exploited. We will not stop until this government has been defeated.”
The union’s district president Sanjay recalls the government’s excesses on contractual teachers, saying, “We were reinstated as Panchayat Shikshamitra in 2003. The contract was to be extended after every 11 months. But in the 33rd month, they started the layoffs.”
“When we were peacefully demonstrating against it on November 25, 2005, in Patna, the unarmed teachers were beaten up without warning on the orders of the government. They broke our arms and legs, and the clothes of female teachers were torn,” he says.
“When the vile act was condemned by all quarters, appointments were made on fixed pay of Rs 4,000 and Rs 5,000 with the retirement age of 60. We have not been regularized till date,” he says. “We are still working as employees of the panchayat. Had the government’s intention been pure, we would not need to hold demonstrations and protests nor fight cases in the court.”
Describing the entire tenure of the Nitish government as anti-teacher, Sanjay says, “We staged a protest in 2009, but we were lathicharged. We only got an increment of Rs 2,000. Then, we went on strike again in 2015. The government assured us that if we resumed our duties in schools, they would accept our demands regarding better service conditions and pay scale. But it was a sham. Today, this government is misleading the public in our name again.”
“We were on strike for 78 days against the government this year too,” he says. “Then the pandemic hit the country. After receiving some assurances from the government, we re-joined the schools in the interest of the public and promptly served the migrant workers who were returning to the state. We put our own lives at risk. But the government did not even bother to announce any compensation or relief to the teachers who died during the pandemic. The same benefits which were extended to ASHA, anganwadi and health workers could have been given to the teachers also,” Sanjay said.
Expressing his displeasure, he says, “The fact is that government offices are functioning because of contractual teachers. We are appointed in schools only for namesake. In reality, we are posted at the BRC, the Zonal Office, the Block Office, the SDO Office or the District Office. But the government is pretending that teachers have been appointed for the students at schools. It is a big ploy.”
He refers to the state government’s rule as “tyranny” and says, “The high court has repeatedly said that teachers should be appointed in the schools originally assigned and not sent on deputation, but this government is busy defying the court’s directive.”
Slamming the government on the issue of equal work equal pay, Sanjay says, “We won the case in the high court. At that time, the government and the education minister were repeatedly saying that they would accept the decision of the court. But the government took the case to the Supreme Court. We somehow collected donations to fight the case there. In the first hearing, Justice R.F. Nariman spoke in favor of equal pay for equal work. But in the second hearing, a new bench took charge.”
According to Mohammad Kalim, teachers appointed as Shikshamitras seventeen years ago had to work hard to restore the education system. As a result, the World Bank became aware of the maintenance and educational status of the school.
He finds the term niyojit denigrating and says, “We were reinstated by the Sukh Suvidha Samiti of the Panchayat unit on the recommendation of the government. The schools which had not opened for months began functioning and the administration found that the teachers were doing their job well. But when we demanded appropriate remuneration for our hard work, we were beaten up.”
Kalim said that deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi’s claim that the salary of contractual teachers is Rs 51,555 only “exposes” the government. “If that is the case, why have the contractual teachers not been receiving it?”
The teachers and the unions say they will put up a tough fight against the incumbent government in this assembly election and are not ready to compromise on their basic demand of equal pay for equal work.
Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman.