by Sheikh Shabir
Teaching is a very difficult profession. It consumes the energy of teachers, needs hard-work, patience and passion. True, teachers dedicate themselves to shaping life and livelihood of students, the society’s future. Doing that is not a child’s task. For undergoing hardships in rendering service to students/society, teachers deserve appreciation and accolades in addition to their wages. It is teachers who prepare students to face challenges in life and bring the best out of them. In this way, teachers build society.
But it is in bad taste if teachers remain unhappy and cry on roads for justice. For example, ninety per cent elementary level school teachers (read teachers working under SSA) of J&K are facing a huge tragedy these days. The earned wages of these teachers (the legal citizens of the state) have not been released for the last four months.
Although the Department of Education is expectedly leaving no stone unturned to ‘streamline’ the salaries of teachers under SSA, things apparently are not improving.
These teachers, I repeat, once again are without salaries from last many months. That has left them in hardships and miseries which are difficult to describe.
Numbering more than 45 thousand in the state, these teachers work at every village, every school – from primary to higher secondary level. It seems that since they belong to the disadvantaged and under-privileged section of the people of the state, their problems are not considered important to be given any serious attention.
What is worthwhile to mention is that through hard work and at the cost of the comfort, peace and health of their poor parents, these teachers had acquired degrees like BA, BSC, Bed, MA, MSc or above. However, because of poverty and lack of resources, these poor citizens of the state had become hopeless and helpless about getting a respectable living.
Coming to their rescue, the successive state governments gave these educated citizens of the state some hope of better livelihood and life. Each government since the year 2000 began to hire the services of these educated people for teaching at state-run schools where the children of the weakest section of the social study.
After completing all the formalities, these teachers formally began to teach the poorest children of the state at these schools. The schools were and still are in unhygienic and unhealthy conditions. But these teachers, compelled both by their extreme poverty and public serving spirit, sacrifice their precious youth and energy in serving the poor children at the schools under poor working conditions.
As per the norms, these poor but educated youth were hired for a mere amount of Rs 1500- 3000 per month for five years. After this period, the successive governments regularized their services. The regularisation brought the teachers at par with other state employees who hold permanent and substantive posts.
Accordingly, in addition to teaching, the state forces these teachers to complete some non-teaching assignments as well. For example, election duty, census, BLO duty etc.
Truth is these teachers work like the other state employees (though sometimes more than others) in all respects. However, despite serving the state and contributing to the exchequer of the same state at the same time that the other employees or public representatives do, these teachers are deprived of their share in state exchequer.
All the other public-serving functionaries of the state, from a peon to a minister, get their salaries in the first week of the month. It is only this one segment of teachers, who are under SSA, that are made to wait for months together to get their salaries.
The delayed wages push these teachers and their families into all sorts of trouble. Their basic needs hardly get fulfilled, school-related needs of their children remain unmet, their electricity and water tariff remain unpaid and their medical care becomes impossible. Besides, debt taken from banks, neighbours and relatives remain unpaid which humiliates the teachers. Alas, the families of these teachers suffer from frustration and depression and maladjustment!
Pertinently, ours is a welfare state. But it is beyond logic why these teachers and their families are deprived of welfare by denying them their earned wages for months together.
Asked, the state authorities argue that Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has not released the funds so far to pay the salaries.
However, the argument is not logically sound and valid. MHRD can never stop funds from the state because J&K has the status of a special state and the central government sends a flood of funds to the state for development. So why MHRD should stop or delay funds constantly to SSA scheme?
Moreover, a teacher’s duty is to teach in the classroom. He/she cannot leave the classroom and go to MHRD for the salary. It is the duty of the Department of Education of our state to arrange salary for the teacher. No budget, no MHRD funds is a lame excuse and akin to an escape from the responsibility.
The ‘no salary period’ for the suffering teachers leaves teachers to suffer. No official has ever voiced a word of concern or encouragement for the suffering teachers who are forced to keep on working even without salaries for months together. These teachers are provided one month’s salary but are forced to wait for two to four months for another month’s salary. This has become a routine.
It is worthwhile to mention that the Department of Education claims to provide quality education at schools. The main focus is on elementary education. However, 90% of teachers working at the elementary level are regular teachers, under SSA, but they are singled out for non-payment of salaries. At present, they are without salaries for the last three months and there seems to be no seriousness on behalf of the government to release salary immediately and ensure its smooth release henceforth.
Meanwhile, the teachers are mentally disturbed, emotionally hurt and de-motivated. With such a frame of mind, these teachers can never be able to teach properly. In fact, no person in any workplace can work happily and effectively if his/her salary is withheld for months together.
There is constitutionally, legally and morally no justification in delaying wages to teachers whom the government promises wages but then breaks the promises. Excuses are a distraction, open violation of labour laws and murder of justice. If an officer gets his salary in time, why not a teacher?
To avoid confrontation with the suffering teachers, the government has many options to release the pending salaries: one, it can ask the bank authorities to release the pending amount and later on repay it to the banks. Two, it can delay the salary of other departments for a month and use these funds to pay the pending salaries to SSA teachers.
Three, it can manage the salaries out of the state budget to smoothly pay to these teachers and later on compensate the funds from MHRD.
The state exchequer needs to be shared fairly and with justice for every contributor to the state exchequer. Delaying wages to one segment of contributors- read SSA teachers- tears apart all aspects of justice and good governance.
Let’s not forget that these teachers, I repeat, have lost motivation for teaching because of continuous delay in their salaries. Now these regular and permanent teachers (under SSA) have been singled out for the denial of the 7th pay commission benefits. This is beyond comprehension: already these teachers have been given all the service benefits as per the 6th pay commission.
Now, these teachers are out of schools and protesting on roads to get their rights and hence get their suffering families free from the miseries and hardships affecting them in the absence of regular salaries and the service benefits. This deals a big blow to the education of poor children under study at government schools. As per media reports, about 25 working days of schooling have till today been lost due to the suffering teachers’ crying on roads for justice with them.
The state needs to understand the situation immediately. Delaying the legitimate demands of the 41 thousand teachers is denying education to lakhs of poor children. Development can wait. Education of poor children cannot. De-motivating teachers will do more harm than good. Resolve the conflict with the teachers and honour them by treating them at par with the other employees of the state.
Shams Irfan edited the copy.
(The author is a school teacher. Views expressed in this article are personal.)