By Sanjana Ahuja:
“…They bribed people into harassing me, denied me a leave for medical treatment and pressured me till I tried to kill myself.”
No, I’m not quoting a bonded labourer from an archaic period of history. A teacher from a private school in our very own capital city of New Delhi said these words about her employers. As I learnt more about the inhumane treatment meted out by these renowned schools to their own faculty members, I was horrified to know how frequently such events take place.
However, there’s hope even in the darkest of places. Meet the All India Private School Staff Teachers Association (AIPSSTA), an organization that has sprung out of the struggles of teachers and staff working in different private schools of Delhi. Starting from a modest beginning consisting of teachers from Rohini, the movement has expanded to create a network of teachers who are fighting against corrupt practices in private schools of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Haryana. They aim to further extend their reach and make it an umbrella organization for struggling teachers and staff in all parts of India.
“There are about 2,500 private and unaided schools in Delhi and a majority (80 per cent) of them are violating the DoE [Directorate of Education] Act. Most of the schools are located in North-East and East Delhi. When the issue of irregularities in payment and service conditions with increased teaching hours was taken up with the DoE officials, the teachers were ridiculed in front of their colleagues. The DoE is working like an agent of private schools,” said Mahesh Rathi, a member of the convening committee of the AIPSSTA.
Speaking to the teachers involved in this movement aimed at reducing corruption in educational institutions, I came to know of many cruel practices taking place. Teachers are forced into signing blank cheques by the management and are then made to return part of the salary paid to them every month. “They would pay me 28,500 Rupees on record but in reality I only got to keep 22,500 Rupees. Moreover, when teachers used to invigilate university exams, the extra money to be paid to them was held on to by the school authorities,” said Ms. Sunita Sharma. By doing this, the schools are blatantly disobeying the guidelines laid out by the Sixth Pay Commission and the service conditions laid down under the Delhi School Education Act, 1973 (DSE).
Another major concern of the movement is to draw attention to the prevalent nepotism in the School Management Committees (SMCs) and how they are turning institution of learning into family-run business ventures. According to Rule 25 of the Central Board of Secondary Education, SMCs may only have one family member on board, a norm that the protesting teachers say is being shamelessly violated. Moreover, family members are allegedly being handed positions that they are most certainly unqualified for. A teacher involved with the movement informed that in a school in Rohini, the Principal’s husband was arbitrarily made the manager of the school and the brother, who lacked any expertise in the field, was hired as the lab assistant.
Under the leadership of Asha Rani, a forerunner of the movement, the body has submitted a memorandum to Delhi Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung to prevent further exploitation of teachers and implement proper practices in schools. However, the body is not sitting idle waiting for things to change. They have taken to the streets, protesting and urging political parties to include a corruption free administration and free private schools into their manifestos. Their list of goals includes, among other things,
1) To create democratic space within private institutions & ensure the participation of teachers, staff and parents in decision making body i.e. School Managing Committee of all private schools.
2) To abolish the system of family run School Managing Committee of private schools.
3) To have in place a system of appointing teachers on contract basis should be discouraged, since it is against the provisions of Delhi School Education Rules 1973.
Much can be said about the resilience of these teachers to get back up and fight against the system, no matter how many times they’ve been knocked down. Their struggle represents the urgent need to reform the backward and crumbling education system in India, something the government needs to address as one of its top priorities. The AIPSSTA stands for a better future for India and we must support its efforts in every way possible.