Lucknow: In the latest instance of harassment over criticism against the Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government, the state police is allegedly harassing and intimidating a private school teacher in the Chief Minister’s bastion, Gorakhpur, for terming the government order that all schools up to class 8 in Uttar Pradesh will remain closed from March 24 till March 31, a 'Tughlaqi farmaan', a colloquial term for an arbitrary order.
Deepak Kanaujia, who runs a private school in Bansgaon village — 30 km from district headquarter Gorakhpur, is worried that any lockdown in near future may severely affect the livelihood of private school teachers, and people from lower sections of society, who depend on monthly or daily earnings. Besides, school closures due to COVID-19 have impacted the education of millions of children and the future of children is at stake.
A video of Kanaujia (seen by NewsClick but not independently verified) filmed on March 23 shows the teacher addressing an assembly of students at Bhimrao Rao Ambedkar Primary School in Bansgaon village. The video has gone viral on the internet, with many impressed with his 'bold stand' against the closure of schools.
The teacher said he was pained after Uttar Pradesh government decided to shut all schools for students till March 31, adding that if schools are not allowed to open from April 1, he will come out on the road along with his students in protest against the decision. He claims he is worried about the future of the students forcing him to threaten the government.
In the video, the teacher also alleges that the government was putting the future of children at stake “because they don’t want them to get educated.” He accuses the Yogi Adityanath government of “using” the pandemic as a pretext to suppress those who stand up in opposition and termed the lockdown announcement as a 'Tughlaqi farmaan'.
Questioning the government's intention and its “double standards” while handling the gatherings amid the pandemic, Kanaujia says, on the one hand, the government has once again taken strict measures of shutting down schools across the state to curb the spread of virus but at the same time, it is organising festivals in Kumbh, 'Gorakhpur Mahotsav' or political campaigns in Bihar. “Did Coronavirus not spread then?” asks the teacher, adding that first the government and leaders should follow the COVID-19 guidelines, then impose them on others.
Speaking with NewsClick over the phone, Kanaujia said, "I was forced to make video after seeing the plight of private school teachers as they are on the brink of poverty. Ever since the coronavirus-induced lockdown started last year, 193 people running private schools on lease in Gorakhpur region have cancelled the registration of their schools because they were not able to pay the rent for school infrastructure and salary of teachers," blaming the government of “wrecking” the livelihood of teachers by closing of schools.
“Somehow teachers in private schools manage their livelihoods, but the Yogi government is taking the bread out of their mouths,” he said.
Following the video, Basic Shiksha Adhikari (BSA) of Gorakhpur, Bhupendra Narayan Singh, ordered cancellation of registration of Kanaujia’s school and legal action has been initiated against him.
Ever since the video went viral, the local police has been raiding his house and asking his family members for his whereabouts, some villagers alleged.
“He was continuously receiving threats on phone, therefore, he switched off and left home as police was frequently coming to the village in the search of him. He simply expressed his pain, is it crime to express the plight of private teachers,” a villager told NewsClick on the condition of anonymity.
The villagers claimed that due to police intimidation, Kanaujia has been forced to hide himself and rumours are rife that the govt was contemplating strict action against him for criticising the order.
SCHOOL TEACHER DIES BY SUICIDE
Over the past one year, the coronavirus-induced lockdown has completely changed the lives of many. Several people from different walks of life are struggling to survive since March 2019, when the lockdown was imposed, to meet their basic needs.
A private school teacher in Khora village of Barhaj block in Deoria district, who was rendered jobless due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown, allegedly died by suicide by jumping into Rapti river on March 25.
The deceased, aged 59, hailed from Uttar Pradesh and lived in a hutment in Khora village. He left home informing his family that he was going Deoria. He did not return instead his dead body was found in Rapti river near Kaparwar village on Wednesday, his family member told NewsClick.
The incident came to light after villagers sent a picture of the dead body to a former village head on his WhatsApp. Seeing the photo, his family members were informed. It was late evening by the time the dead body arrived in the village, leading to a public outcry. The body of the deceased has been sent for autopsy, police said.
The wife of the deceased, Malti Devi, who identified the body, said the deceased was worried due to the shutting down of his school during the coronavirus-induced lockdown. "He was unemployed since the lockdown was enforced last year and had not able to pay loans taken from villagers, which left him depressed,” she told NewsClick.
Similarly, Shruti Tiwari, who also runs a private school in Barhaj, which has seven teaching staff and at least 200 students, told NewsClick: "There are endless stories about how private school teachers are leaving this profession and doing random jobs to survive. The government must understand the plight of private teachers. We are solely dependent on children fee and since they are not able to submit fee, we could not pay electricity bills, building rent, teachers' salary etc. We do not want another lockdown because we cannot afford it," she said, adding that the school administration waived fee during the lockdown time because they did not want to burden guardians.
"But how long can we waive fee. The state government should intervene into the matter and must provide unemployment allowance to private teachers. We also demand a government-regulated body for private teachers to address their grievances," the young teacher said.
A Varanasi based Mathematics teacher has a similar experience. "This has been a devastating year and the government should open schools because we cannot afford the trauma that we faced in a year. If government cannot take cognisance of private teachers then at least it should give them freedom to run schools,” said Shakeb, a private teacher who used to earn a hefty amount before lockdown and has not been able to make ends meet for the past few months.
In March last year, the Narendra Modi government at the Centre had imposed a sudden, month-long countrywide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. Since then, the schools in the state are yet to function normally. The new wave of infections is now threatening livelihoods again despite the government’s vaccination drive.