Bhopal: It was not enough for Rakesh Patidar, 37, to secure 64th rank with 97.87% marks in the High School Teacher Eligibility Test held in 2019 by the School Education Department for the post of 22,000 teachers in Madhya Pradesh. After a wait of over two years for joining, Patidar and his eight-year-old son consumed poison on September 7, 2021, allegedly owing to poverty.
Rakesh, a resident of Khargone district, succumbed the same night while the condition of his son is critical; he is undergoing treatment in Indore.
Patidar is among the 75 teachers who have died awaiting their joining. Many died after they were infected with the COVID-19 or died by suicide, according to the Chainit Shikshak Sangh, a group of selected teachers who have joined hands to raise their voice for their rightful demand. The teacher’s group also held dozens of rallies in Bhopal and other parts of the state. It ran campaigns on social media to pressure the government to get immediate joining but received a copy of FIR in return.
“Marred with penury, Rakesh was in desperation,” said Bhutesh Chandra, a close friend of Rakesh; Chandra is also waiting for his joining. “A few days back, Rakesh had said it may take another life to get the joining,” he said, adding that Rakesh’s father had paralysis.
On the notification of September 2018, the Professional Examination Board (PEB) conducted a recruitment examination for High School Teachers in January and February 2019; it included the posts of 22,000 odd teachers of the School Education Department and the posts of 8,000 teachers of the Tribal Welfare Department. The PEB declared the results within six months of the examination.
The story of Kalpana Shende (33), a resident of Seoni district, whose husband Ravindra Kumar Shende (40) died during the second wave, is heart-wrenching.
Ravindra, a guest teacher, had turned to selling items on the footpath to make a living for his family of four. He had secured 93.87% marks in the Teacher’s Examination but was waiting for his joining like many others. He developed Covid-19 symptoms and died ten days later. “We couldn’t afford treatment at a private hospital and watched him die helplessly,” said his wife Kalpana, who claimed to have taken Rs 1.5 lakh of loan from relatives for his treatment. After losing her husband, Kalpana is now worried about repaying the debt with no source of income.
She claimed that after Ravindra’s demise, his aged mother also died allegedly owing to shock. “After their demise, my in-laws not only abandoned me with the two toddlers but also denied to hand over Rs 27,000 collected via crowd-funding for his treatment in his mother’s bank account,” said Kalpana.
“If he had been given joining on time, I could have got a job on compassionate ground after his demise,” she lamented over the phone.
Patidar’s suicide threw light on the ongoing plight of the teachers who have been waiting to join their work. Tweeting with the hashtag #JusticeforRakeshPatidar, former Minister and Congress leader Jaivardhan Singh tweeted, “Rakesh Patidar, a teacher who was waiting for joining for a long time committed suicide owing unemployment. [sic]”
He further wrote, “This is not a suicide but murder for which the BJP government is solely responsible.”
According to the Chainit Shikshak Sangh, many like Rakesh and Ravindra suffered and died due to the state government’s lethargy in sending joining letters to the candidates. Meanwhile, many selected candidates are forced to do odd jobs to make a living.
Umesh Birle and Bhutesh Chandra from Khargone have been waiting for joining letters; the former now sells corns on Khargone-Indore highway while the latter was running a sugarcane juice corner in summer to make ends meet. “We are just examples; thousands of people have started doing odd jobs to make a living until they receive appointment letters,” said Bhutesh.
The association claimed to have provided monetary aid of Rs 62,000 to Ravindra’s family through crowd-funding, while Rs 51,000 was raised to support Rakesh’s family. “We not only kept the records of the teachers who died waiting for joining but also provided aid to the needy family,” said Naveen Shrivastava, one of the selected teachers.
After being left high and dry, the teachers’ group has held multiple rallies in Bhopal and Indore, apart from resorting to campaigns on social media to draw attention to their plight. However, far from reaching any solution, or mechanism to address their issues, these teachers were slapped with FIRs and on occasions faced lathi-charge.
On August 18, a group of women teachers who demanded to meet Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Bhopal to tie Rakhi on the eve of Raksha Bandhan received lathi-charge from the police instead.
Later that day, an FIR was registered against 27 protesters under sections 341, 147, 269 and 188 of the Indian Penal Code. The FIR also mentions 1500 ‘unknown’ men and 300 women for holding protests. “We are not politicians or social group who opposes government policies and protests. We are teachers who just want to join work and teach. Instead, we were offered ‘dates after dates’, police’s cane’ and finally termed ‘criminal’ in the FIR’,” said Indra Rawat (32), a teacher who hails from Chhatarpur and waiting for joining.
On August 8, 2021, during a public event in Betul district, a selected woman teacher fell on the feet of School Education Minister Indar Singh Pramar demanding a joining letter and broke down. Seeing her frighten, Minister assured for immediate joining, but it yielded no results.
On several occasions, reporters questioned Pramar about the joining letters, and in reply, either he ditched the question or assured them that the process of sending letters was in progress. While VD Sharma, state BJP president, put blame on opposition Congress for the delay. But they assured to rectify the issue.
Despite repeated attempts, the School Education Minister was not available for comments.
Even during the previous Congress regime led by Kamal Nath, teachers held weeks-long protests in Bhopal’s Shahjahani Park and even shaved their heads in protest, but it bore no results. The BJP, who was then in opposition, supported the teacher’s protest and Minister of Medical Education Vishwas Sarang in the current regime assured the teachers to appoint as soon as BJP returned to power.
Political observers believe that the issue of appointment of teachers also led to the fall of the Congress government in the state as Jyotiraditiya Scindia publicly took a stand on the issue and threatened to hit the streets. In reply, the then CM Kamal Nath publicly dismissed his threat saying ‘Utar Jai’. This was the last nail in the coffin in the already sour relations between the two senior leaders.
Days after Kamal Nath’s comment, Scindia and 22 MLAs defected to the BJP , which led to the fall of the 15-month long Congress government in the state. The Congress had returned to power after 15 years.
The wait for the teachers seems unending as the state is reeling under a massive debt of Rs 2.5 lakh crore. Since the first wave of the Covid-19 outbreak, the state government has taken a loan of over Rs 34,003 crore to pay salaries and continue ongoing projects.