Editor's Note: A network of 60 reporters set off across India to test the idea of development as it is experienced on the ground. Their brief: Use your mobile phone to record the impact of 120 key policy decisions on everyday life; what works, what doesn't and why; what can be done better and what should be done differently. Their findings — straight and raw from the ground — will be combined in this series, Elections on the Go, over a course of 100 days.
Ranchi: Naresh Mahato, 45, single-handedly runs the Utramit Prathmik Vidyalaya in Dahutoli under Sukurhutta village of Ranchi parliamentary constituency. He conducts classes of all subjects for the 61 students, manages the school’s funds, helps with the midday meal arrangements and conducts examinations and evaluations as per schedule in each academic year. All for a monthly salary of Rs 9,438, with no additional benefits.
"I have been teaching here since 2006," said Naresh, a non-permanent para teacher. "I passed the Jharkhand Teachers Eligibility Test (JTET) but the government did not recruit me as a full-time teacher. I have been the only teacher here since 2015."
Primary education in the state’s rural tribal belts would have collapsed a long time back, if not for the efforts of the 67,000 odd para teachers like Naresh Mahato, who outnumber the 50,000 odd permanent teachers at primary schools. Their appointments started in 2002 as Shiksha Mitras (meaning teacher's friends) under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). The SSA is a Government of India-sponsored programme that aims at providing free and compulsory education to children in the age bracket of six to 14 years as a fundamental right. The Shiksha Mitras were appointed as ad hoc teachers to combat the dearth of regular teachers in the rural areas and ensure that SSA achieves its target. Hired at the initial salary of Rs 1,000, most of these 67,000 od Shiksha Mitras have now progressed on to a meagre Rs 10,000 salary per month. Meanwhile, the permanent teachers are paid five times the amount with pension, provident fund and other social security benefits.
During this period, the paraprofessional educators have staged a series of protests and strikes that crippled school education in many parts of the tribal hinterland. Some teachers have even lost their lives in these protests while many others lost their jobs.
The latest in their series of protests was a strike from 16 November, 2018 to 17 January, 2019, in which Suryadev Thakur and Ujjwal Rai reportedly died after being lathi-charged outside the venue of chief minister's event on Jharkhand’s Statehood Day on 15 November 2018 in Ranchi. Another para teacher, Kanchan Das, allegedly died of cold while protesting outside state social welfare minister Louis Marandi's residence in Dumka. "Our brothers have died demanding justice and parity with permanent teachers, but nobody cares about our lives," said says Vikrant Jyoti, a para teacher from Dumka. "Several governments have come and gone but no one has helped us."
In Jharkhand, the ad-hoc teachers outnumber permanently employed teachers by thousands and are paid only the fifth of their salary, despite discharging the same duties.
The present state government has also blatantly ignored a Supreme Court ruling regarding equal pay to regular and ad hoc employees. A bench of Justice JS Khehar and Justice S A Bobde on October 25 last year had ruled that the principle of 'equal pay for equal work' constitutes a clear and unambiguous right whether employed on a regular or temporary basis. The court had also said that temporary teachers were entitled to dearness allowance at par with their permanent counterparts.
The para teachers are still waiting for the state government to implement the SC verdict. “We have been reduced to vote banks,” said Sanjay Dubey, 48, a science teacher at Basic School in Barhi block of Hazaribag. Sanjay, who became a para teacher in 2003, earns Rs 10,000 a month, with the government not regularising his services citing lack of eligibility.
Sanjay cleared the Jharkhand Teachers’ Eligibility Test (JTET) in 2013 as the government had announced that year that services of all para teachers who clear the test would be regularised. At least 11,000 para teachers who have passed JTET are still temporary employees and continue to receive the paltry salaries even though they perform all the tasks of a regular school teacher.
Now, with elections around the corner, all the parties are back making the same unkept promises to the para teachers. Jharkhand is currently ruled by the BJP. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the second largest party in the state, has formed four governments here in the past. However, none of them lasted for the complete tenure of five years. Congress has never ruled in the state since its formation in 2000 and is now making the tallest promises to the teachers, who are now being drafted for poll duty.
Suryadev Thakur and Ujjwal Rai reportedly died after police baton-charged the protesting Shiksha Mitras outside the venue of an event, which was attended by the state's CM in Ranchi last year
"Para teachers who have served for more than 10 years and are qualified should be regularised," said Ajoy Kumar, president of the state Congress unit. "We have made it clear in our manifesto that ad hoc teachers will be regularised based on a set selection process."
Jharkhand’s education minister Neera Yadav dodged questions about the issue of para teachers claiming that the matter cannot be discussed over the phone. The JMM as well as the BJP manifesto of 2014, when the BJP swept the polls, had included the issue of ad hoc government employees.
"What the incumbent government has done is closest to being a permanent solution for the para teachers' issue," claimed Pratul Shahdeo, BJP spokesperson. "We have assured regular revision of honorarium, provided maternity leave to teachers and will provide 50 percent reservation for them in the next recruitment cycle for primary school teachers."
Amrendra Pratap Singh, Jharkhand school education and literacy secretary dismissed the para teachers claims as not based on facts. "Around 4000 seats in the reserved category could not be filled due to lack of eligible candidates," said Singh. "We will have one special counselling session for JTET pass teachers probably in June. The government has recruited around 33,000 teachers in the last four to five years and recruitment of 18,000 more teachers is in the pipeline." He added that the government spends Rs 850 crore annually on para teachers which will go up by Rs 250 crore after the latest pay revision.
But talk to para teacher Mohammad Javed Riaz, 42, and one hits a very different reality. A trained Urdu teacher who has cleared the JTET twice, Riaz insisted that they had never received the support the government claims to have given them. "All the governments formed in Jharkhand till date have only fooled us with their false assurances," said Riyaz, who became a para teacher in 2003 and currently teaches at the Rajkiya Urdu Madhya Vidyalaya in Gagikhatanga under Ranchi parliamentary constituency, "Don’t the politicians understand that we too have families to feed and children who need proper education."
The author is a Ranchi-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters