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Pandemic Shattered Selfless Teacher and Dreams of his Village

Saurabh Sharma |
Pyarelal Raikawar, who taught the children of his village in UP’s Banda district free of cost, committed suicide after losing his school job and due to the mounting debts.

Rakhi Raikwar showing her brother Pyarelal's picture on phone.Photo by Mohit Kumar

Naraini Tehsil, Banda: In a state where politicians brazenly play their caste/communal cards for winning elections, Pyarelal had united his village into a big family by teaching children irrespective of their religion or caste until the pandemic rendered him jobless, made him extremely depressed and finally forced him to commit suicide.

Since the death of Pyarelal Raikawar—remembered only by his initial name—more than a year ago, the children of Gore Ka Purva hamlet, haven’t studied or attended school. Situated on the Banda-Panna Highway, in Banda district of the parched Bundelkhand region, the village of about 60 households still grieves the death of Pyarelal, who was only 32 when he committed suicide on October 17 last year. 

According to the villagers, Pyarelal was upset with the loss of his job after the school shut down, business loss, mounting debts and the dearth of money needed for his sister’s marriage.

The schoolteacher was the only earning member in his family despite his drunkard father being a contractual employee with the Public Works Department (PWD). Now, his two sisters and brother, who haven’t attended school in the last two years, are dependent on the income from their one bigha agricultural land.


Arti Raikwar and Rakhi Raikwar, sisters of late Pyarelal.Photo by Mohit Kumar

Every villager, from the children to the elderly, grieves the death of Pyarelal, whose modesty and good deeds had ensured communal harmony in the hamlet, which has only three Hindu households belonging to the Other Backward Class (OBC).

A teary 52-year-old Khusboo Khatoon, one of Pyarelal’s neighbours, still can’t believe his death. “It seems like yesterday. He taught the children despite struggling to make ends meet. He was the only graduate from the village. They are headless in his absence with schools shut,” she says.

“Pyarelal continued teaching our kids despite losing his Rs 1,800 job at a private school. He started selling eggs and samosas but ensured teaching the children every evening. We had no idea that tension caused by the job loss, growing liabilities and other problems that occurred after the lockdown was imposed was eating him up,” adds Khatoon.

The children haven’t attended school since the lockdown. Unlike several parents who got their children enrolled at private schools, the marginalised communities, dependent on the state for education, are helpless. 

“Pyarelal was like my son. We were hopeful that with him around, our children will do something meaningful in life and not work as daily wagers. Now, none of the youngsters can teach our children,” says Shafique Ahmad, another neighbour of Pyarelal.

According to a UNICEF report, the closure of 1.5 million schools in India due to the pandemic and the resultant lockdown in 2020 impacted 247 million children enrolled at elementary and secondary schools.

Pyarelal’s sister Rakhi’s graduation dream has been shattered. She couldn’t even complete her intercollege due to his death. Remembering the ill-fated day, she says, “We had guests that day; it was regarding my marriage. My brother looked happy and did his best to welcome them. After the guests left, all of us, except my brother, went to our neighbour’s house. When we returned after an hour, we found him hanging from the fan. He was declared dead on arrival by the hospital.”

Though Rakhi doesn’t know the exact reason for her brother’s extreme step, “he was under extreme stress and my marriage was his marriage concern. My brother remained worried because of his liabilities since our father does not contribute anything for running the house”.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau 2020 data, there was a sharp rise in the number of suicides last year. In absolute terms, 153,052 suicides were reported, the highest since 1967, the earliest period for which data is available. This number increased by 10% from 2019 with the year-on-year jump the fourth highest since 1967. 

Suicides by vendors and tradesmen increased by 26.1% and 49.9%, respectively. Pyarelal would have come under the category of vendors since he was selling samosa and eggs to earn a living for his family. Among the causes of suicide, poverty (69%) and unemployment (24%) registered the biggest increase. 

“Had Pyarelal told us the problem, we would have sorted it out and he would have been alive,” says a sad Ahmad.

The writer is an independent journalist.

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