Over the past few months, coronavirus-induced lockdown has completely changed the lives of many. Several people from different walks of life are struggling to survive since March, when the lockdown was imposed, to meet their basic needs. Even though the government has announced some relaxations in lockdown restrictions, but returning back to normalcy continues to be a challenge for many.
Several teachers of top educational institutions in Telangana have been forced into other trades and jobs to eke out a living, even after the ease of lockdown in graded manner. There are endless stories about how a physical education teacher becomes a chai-wallah (tea seller), high school teacher has started stitching clothes, and another teacher who now works in a water bottling plant.
On September 5, a 35-year-old Papa Rao, a state-level Kabaddi player and a physical education teacher at a private school in Hyderabad, decided to sell his wife's gold chain to set up a tea stall. He has been working in a private school, but hadn't received any salary since March. From tea stall, now he earns Rs 4,000 a month.
"When I ran out of my savings, I even worked as daily wage labour to feed my family and support my daughter's education who is a bright student. I reached out to the school management multiple times but all my pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Never in my dreams had I imagined to see myself struggling like this", Rao said, as he scrolled through photos of him with his students, who have been his biggest support during this dark period.
With Covid-19 striking at their revenues, most private schools in Hyderabad have recalled only 15 per cent of its staff on an as-needed basis. The remaining teachers have been put on standby without any salary or incentive for over seven months now.
Some of the private schools that News18 reached out, claim that there has been a steep decline in their income as they are charging only tuition fees from students as mandated by the Telangana government. “We are aware of the crisis that private teachers are going through but allied expenses like building rent, electricity and high maintenance costs aggravated by Covid-19 has forced us to scale down our operations”, a principal of a top private school in Hyderabad said.
Similarly, 32-year-old Mahadev, a physical education teacher, who now works at a water treatment plant, earning less than half the salary he used to make as a teacher. “Private teachers have lost their value, my source of income has halved, I am doing random jobs to support my family, I have no choice, it is very difficult to keep myself motivated," he said.
High school teacher Subhalakshmi too has remained unpaid for six months. She finally received half a month’s salary in August, but constantly lives in the fear of losing her job. “I won’t call it salary; we are being paid wages and treated like slaves," she told News18. After 17 years of service, Subhalakshmi has now turned to tailoring to support her family.
While cash-strapped private schools are going overboard with their austerity measures, Mahadev and other teachers have hit the streets seeking the state government’s intervention into the matter. According to the Telangana Private Teachers Forum, there are nearly 12,000 old government-recognised private schools that have not paid salaries to nearly two lakh teachers for over seven months now. At least 5 teachers have died by suicide since April.
“The state government must provide unemployment allowance to private teachers who have been laid off. We also demand a government-regulated body for private teachers to address their grievances. The state government has only been making tall promises, but no action”, said TPTF president Shabbir Ali.