Why Shiksha Mitras In Uttar Pradesh Are Committing Suicide
"When we work on low wages, they praise us, but when we demand a hike, they say we are not eligible to teach; that we are victims of politics."
Twenty-nine-year-old Babu Singh, an assistant teacher in a primary school in the Kannauj District of Uttar Pradesh, committed suicide on September 12, 2015, by hanging himself. His act was triggered by the Allahabad High Court’s verdict quashing the appointment of assistant teachers who had not taken the Teacher Eligibility Test (TET). The decision shattered the dreams of more than 1,70,000 “Shiksha Mitras” in the state.
Tairwan, a subdivision of Kannauj District, at first glance, seems welcoming. Posters of the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi boasting welfare programmes and congratulatory messages greet one on the roads. A countryside road from Tairwan leads one to the Utari village. Right beside a statue of BR Ambedkar, Babu Singh’s mother, Kanti Devi lives in a brick hut that she shares with seven others, including young widow daughter-in-law.
The 55-year-old lady sits on a “charpai” with her twenty-six-year-old son Shiv Pal Singh. With tears in her eyes, she describes Babu as reliable and determined, punctual and diligent. Babu was the sole breadwinner in the family. Without him, the family now depends on “sarkari anaj” — rations — for sustenance. “I wish the government could offer a teaching job to his wife. She is well-educated. She can teach in school,” says Kanti Devi.
According to Shiv Pal, “Babu was distraught after the demotion but pretended all was normal. He had dinner along with all of us and then went to bed. The next morning, his wife found his corpse hanging from a rope in the other room.”
“The District Magistrate promised that he would give us five acres of land and a house,” says Shiv Pal, adding, “I have spent days and months at the DM office, the Lekhpal and with the pradhan of the village. Five years have gone by; we have received nothing.”
“Anyone will get depressed if you take away their job. Babu spent ten years with only one hope. The government took away that hope in 2015.”
In 2001, the Indian government introduced the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan program to provide elementary education across the country. To make this program successful, the government-appointed lakhs of the teacher on a contractual basis. Shiksha Mitras contributed significantly to improving the literacy rate of the country. They persuade people to enrol their children in schools and spread awareness about the need for education. Shiksha Mitras also worked for meagre wages and did not add burden on the state exchequer.
Babu was hired as a Shiksha Mitra in 2008 for Rs 2,500 a month. He was made assistant teacher in May 2015. The Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party government of Uttar Pradesh, through an amendment to the Uttar Pradesh Basic Education (Teachers) Service Rule 1981, regularised Shiksha Mitras as assistant teachers. After that, Shiksha Mitras’ salaries went up to Rs 35,000 per month.
The Allahabad High Court, however, found the appointment of Shiksha Mitras as assistant teacher unconstitutional in September that year. The court said that the guidelines of the National Education Council for Teachers education were not followed — “Absorption of Shiksha Mitra as assistant teachers in Junior Basic School under Rule 14(6) are set aside as being unconstitutional and ultra vires and all consequential executive orders of the State Government providing for the absorption of Shiksha Mitra into the regular service of the state as Assistant Teachers shall stand quashed and set aside.”
Later the Supreme upheld the verdict of the Allahabad High Court.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 was enacted by the Parliament for free and compulsory education to all children of the age 6 to 14 years. The National Council for Teacher Education was designated as authority to lay down the training for the appointment of teachers. An NCTE notification in 2010 laid down TET as an essential qualification in the process of appointment of teachers.
While some Shiksha Mitras had cleared TET, with the court quashing the original order, they too were demoted. Vice President of Uttar Pradesh Prathmik Shiksha Mitra Sangh, Tribhuwan Singh, who has documented the deaths of Shiksha Mitras said that nearly 1000 of Shiksha Mitras died in the recent past. Many of them suffered heart attacks brought about by trauma, and several committed suicides, he says. “Financial distress is a major reason behind these deaths,” says Tribhuwan, adding, “On such a low salary, a rich householder will not work. Despite knowing the fact that we are not financially strong, the government has not supported us. Even the salary is not being paid on time. Many people in my knowledge have taken loans from banks for the education of their children. But the government suddenly forced them into financial hardship. If people die after drinking alcohol, then the government is ready to give financial help to them, but Shiksha Mitras don’t get this treatment.”
Fifty-two-year-old Gopal Rai who was also demoted from assistant teacher to Shiksha Mitra died of a heart attack in October of 2017. He had taught in the Narhin Primary School since 2005. His son Rajnish Rai says his father was distressed because of the demotion. “My father sent us to study Ballia to get a better education in 2015 when he was appointed as an assistant teacher. But he asked us to come back to the village as his salary was cut down to Rs 10,000 per month, after two years. I have left my education as the responsibility of looking after my family is on my shoulder.”
Tribhuwan further says, “We have taken this matter to the Human Rights Commission, but our petition was not heard because the matter was in court. When the government has to provide benefits, then it does not remember to follow any rule. And when it has to reduce the benefits, then all the rules are in place. The court order was not followed. The court told the government to regularise Shiksha Mitras in fresh two stages of recruitment, but the government tweaked it by bringing another test called Super TET.”
In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to Shiksha Mitras from his constituency, Varanasi, not to commit suicide because of the adverse Allahabad High Court judgement. He promised to guide the state government on ways to address their problems. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath too made a similar promise to Shiksha Mitras before the U.P. assembly elections. After becoming Chief Minister, however, he termed the teachers as political agents and said their training and experience was “backdoor entries”.
Speaking to NewsCentral24x7, Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Shalabh Mani Tripathi said, “The Akhilesh Yadav government tweaked the rules to gain the political support of Shiksha Mitras. Whatever the verdict of the court as we are in complete support of Shiksha Mitras. The chief minister has constituted a committee to find a permanent solution within the legal framework.”
The committee was supposed to submit its report within three months. However, six months on, Shiksha Mitras are still waiting for it. Madhukar Trivedi, a Samajwadi Party spokesperson, told NewsCentral24x7, “This government of Yogi Adityanath have no intention to find any solution for distressed Shiksha Mitras. Their hard work is insulted every day. Many of the Shiksha Mitras committed suicide. Those who protest against the government are being beaten up with lathis; even the National Security Act was invoked against some of the protesters.”
Meanwhile, the National Education Policy draft has only added to the worries of distressed Shiksha Mitras. Afeefa Aziz, a Shiksha Mitra in Ballia district, said: “I have heard that the BJP government plans to scrap the post of Shiksha Mitras in the state.”
On May 31, a committee led by former ISRO chief Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan submitted the draft NEP to the Human Development Resources Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank. The draft says, “All para teachers systems across the country will be stopped by 2022.”
Just after completing her masters in home science, Afeefa joined as a Shiksha Mitra in 2008. She says, “I still remember when Modi had announced during an election speech in Varanasi that we would be awarded permanent status, recognising our contributions. Leave aside permanent status, now they are planning to scrap us. It would be a betrayal to all the hard work we have done”.
A mother of two, Afeefa says that even the meagre sum of Rs 10,000 per month is often not paid on time. “I have been waiting for my salary for the last three months.”
Speaking to NewsCentral24x7, state president of Uttar Pradesh Prathmik Shikshak Sangh Shiv Kumar Shukla said, “The Yogi Adityanath government has no intention to find a solution for us. They are just blaming the Samajwadi government. Akhilesh Yadav’s government not only appreciated our work but also gave us the status of assistant teachers. We have given 20 years of our lives. The government should find a solution for us. The court has not stopped them from increasing our honorarium if the government can not regularise us. Despite several protests, the ruling BJP did not listen to our demands.”
Afeefa’s words cast a stark light on the BJP’s policies: “When we work on low wages, they praise us, but when we demand a hike, they say we are not eligible to teach; that we are victims of politics. We teach every subject. We work as hard as permanent teachers, but we are not treated equally. It is unfortunate.”