On 25 July, a Supreme Court ruling upholding a High Court verdict on "shiksha-mitras" (para-teachers) that quashed their appointment as teachers pushed Uttar Pradesh into chaos. Almost overnight, protestors were out on 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 Uttar Pradesh has about 1.72 lakh shiksha-mitras. Citing their lack of teaching qualifications, the Supreme Court said it was not possible to "regularise" shiksha-mitras as teachers.
In rural Bundelkhand, Banda and Mahoba saw a fair number of the shiksha-mitras have taken to the streets, participating in large-scale demonstrations against the verdict. Schools have been the worst affected with most shutting down. As of July 31, several across the state declared an unofficial—and indefinite—holiday. In a country where government schools are often running on account of shiksha-mitras, where the education of thousands of children often boils down to that one teacher, this is a very serious state of affairs.
The irony, as with many government directives, is undeniable: Shiksha-mitras, or para-teachers, are appointed precisely to meet the lack of qualified teachers.
The irony, as with many government directives, is undeniable: shiksha-mitras, or para-teachers, are appointed precisely to meet the lack of qualified teachers. Their salaries are considerably lower than those of teachers—10 times lower in fact. Until a few days ago, the "adjustment" of a shiksha-mitra as an "asli (real) teacher" seemed like an appropriate progression.
As we mingle amongst the protestors, the rage is 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 ₹74,000 a month. But suddenly, we have no value? Why have we been singled out? Is that fair?"
The basis on which this adjustment has been cancelled is invalid. We have 16-17 years of experience, is that such a small time? Mukesh, a shiksha-mitra
In Naraini, Mukesh makes a point, "The basis on which this 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 (and now we have to go on the streets)?" Shashikala adds, "Obviously, we're going to starve."
Ever since the verdict was 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 a stronger on-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 mandatory exam all Shiksha-mitras have been ordered to take and pass (two attempts are allowed) in order to be promoted as teachers, which protestors insist is not a legitimate or fair imposition.
Other voices are asking everyone to do the math. A shiksha-mitra is paid close to ₹4000 a month and once "upgraded" as a teacher, he/she is appointed at a monthly take-home salary of approximately ₹35,000. Mahoba's Vimal Tripathi starts by telling us that he respects the court's decision, even though it is "unfortunate". He elaborates, "People are now in their 40s—we can't suddenly be evicting them from their jobs to start from scratch."
People are now in their 40s—we can't suddenly be evicting them from their jobs to start from scratch. Vimal Tripathi, a shiksha-mitra
Tripathi is firm about their stance, "We want to say to the state government that our honour 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 escalate 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 seems to have reared his head since the election debacle arguably for the first time, is leaving no stone unturned in politicising 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've been chewed up and spat out. We are left with no options now."