Abused, underpaid, sacked: Teachers in unaided sector plead for justice before Women's Commission

Representational image
Representational graphic.

Kozhikode: Kunheebi KT has been a primary school teacher at an unaided residential institution at Mathara in Kozhikode for 31 years. Nazreen Vabi has taught in the upper primary/high school sections of the same school for 25 years.

Nowadays, they have nothing to do at the school. They are no longer assigned hours, not provided seats in the staff room, not paid salaries, not even offered a cup of tea. They were compelled to exit a school bus as the principal instructed the driver to not permit anyone other than the staff.

This situation has been ongoing since June 1, when the teachers were terminated from their jobs. They were not provided a reason for the dismissal. Kunheebi and Nazreen suspect they joining a teachers' union was the trigger. They approached the union, which got them reinstated, but the school management allegedly insisted on playing hardball. Kunheebi and Nazreen say they are facing a boycott at school.

On Saturday, the two teachers dared to come out and share their plight at a hearing of the Women's Commission in Kozhikode.

There were scores of teachers from the unaided sector at the hearing, sharing similar stories of neglect and apathy. Naseema K, a district panchayat member from Palakkad and a teacher at an unaided school, talked about the violation of her rights. She too became an eyesore for the school management after joining a teachers' union. But her suspension was over the complaint of a parent, belonging to a Dalit community, who alleged that Naseema made derogatory remarks about the child's caste.

Naseema maintains that the complaint was fabricated by the management to expel her from the school as no other student reportedly heard her make the remark. She claims the management wanted to get rid of her as she fought for a colleague who had been denied gratuity on retirement. She says her fight for justice bore fruit as since then every teacher has managed to get her gratuity on retirement.

Naseema claims the management terminated one of her colleagues for standing with her. That teacher was told that she was fired, in a WhatsApp message. According to Naseema, the teacher got back into service with the intervention of the High Court. However, Naseema's suspension has yet to be revoked. “If a panchayat member has to face this kind of torture, imagine the plight of other teachers in the unaided sector?” an emotional Naseema said at the hearing.

Different lives, same plight
Every aggrieved teacher who spoke at the hearing had similar stories; unexplained termination, unstable job and poor pay, often without an annual increment. They said the pension is as low as Rs 1,000 and as high as Rs 2,000 per month and there are no other retirement benefits; a memento and some nice words from the management aside.

I received an increment of Rs 339 after three years, said Sauda, a teacher from Perambra. Rajani Murali from Thrissur district, who was at the hearing, and 20 other teachers were sacked during the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, without an explanation.

“A primary teacher in the government service gets a minimum of Rs 30,000 as their starting salary. A teacher in upper primary gets Rs 36,000 and in high school, it is Rs 40,000. But an unaided teacher's salary starts at Rs 5,000,” said Venu Kakkattil, State General Secretary of Unaided School Teachers and Staff Association.

While an unaided teacher goes home with no benefits on retirement after three decades of service, one in the government service gets anywhere between Rs 35 lakhs and 50 lakhs.

The state government issued an interim order in 2012 raising the minimum salary for a lower primary teacher in the unaided sector to Rs 10,000, for an upper primary teacher, Rs 15,000 and for a high school teacher, Rs 20,000. However, according to Venu Kakkattil, this decade-old order has yet to be implemented. “Many school managements levy their contribution to the Provident Fund from the teachers. The unaided sector faces the worst human rights violations,” Kakkattil said.

Here are some of the suggestions that came up at the hearing: Set up a special committee at the government level, bring the unaided sector under the security of Labour Law, provide public holidays, PF, ESI and gratuity, upgrade the salary scale and ensure maternity leave.

Women's Commission Chairperson, P Sathidevi said: “The commission will submit a set of recommendations to the state government to find solutions to the issues faced by teachers in the sector. Teachers and non-teaching staff are being victimised by the torture from the management. Their rights can be protected through people's intervention.” K K Ramachandran MLA was the chief guest of the function that was presided over by VR Mahila Mani, a member of the commission.

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