Concern for Safety of Teachers Increases Following Large-Scale Deaths in Uttar Pradesh

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In the middle of the serious conditions created by increasing Covid mortality, concerns over safety of teachers have increased following the allegations of deaths of  nearly 700 teachers made by an association of primary teachers in the state in the context of the teachers who were assigned  panchayat election duties. Government sources have denied that the election duty was  related to such a large number of deaths and the exact cause for each mortality can only be explained fully by more detailed scrutiny. Nevertheless the specific information collected by the teachers’ organization in this context for several districts  and the names sent by it have evoked much concern for the larger issue of the safety of teachers here as well as in other states.

Earlier there were reports about the desirability of conducting panchayat ( rural decentralization) elections in the middle of the Covid scare and one view was that panchayat election can be suspended for some time till the conditions have improved. In addition, when a decision had finally been taken regarding holding the elections with certain precautions, a lot of reluctance was reported on the part of teachers to accept election duties in the middle of increasingly unsafe conditions. Teacher union leaders have said that they drew attention to the non-observance of full Covid-protocol at an early stage.

In this context it may be explained here that in India there has been a long tradition of assigning official duties other than teaching and related school-work to teachers ( for example conduct of census, surveys or elections)  and paper work  has increased greatly for teachers in recent times. In addition government teachers also have some additional work relating to mid-day meals also. This additional burden has been resented by teachers , particularly those who are in very low  income slabs.

This resentment has turned into acute distress in Uttar Pradesh as reports of several untimely deaths have been received  and an association of teachers has compiled the existing information to give estimates of a very large number of deaths of teachers employed  on duties other than teaching and school/education related activities.

There are important lessons from these highly tragic deaths for Uttar Pradesh as well as for  the rest of the country as well. The question of safety of teachers should also get adequate consideration. Even in normal times there should be a limit regarding how much of non-educational and  non-school work they can be assigned. However in Covid times there is the additional question of safety as well which should get adequate attention.

As it is, challenges in the context of school education  have also increased greatly. There is  real danger that the progress of recent years can be rolled back and the number of drop-out children can increase significantly. In addition sporadic data reveal that the numbers of child workers, trafficked children and child marriages also show a rising trend in several parts of country. In this context teachers have their hands full really in the context of responsibilities relating to children of school-going age only , ( whether inside or outside school )and their responsibilities should be mainly confined to those of school-education and children.

In addition of course the government should give generous contribution for the care of the families of those teachers who have died while attending to the call of assigned duty in recent times.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.



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