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Parents become paymasters
- Lack of employment options forces unpaid teachers to continue

Siliguri, July 24: Thirteen teachers in Siliguri, some with masters degrees in their CVs, have been forced to line up before guardians repeatedly for loans because the school they teach in has refused to pay their salaries.

The teachers hired on contract by Siliguri Hindi High School have continued to work in the institution as their previous experiences in other jobs in the private sector have shown that pay is generally low in a region where options are few.

The Telegraph spoke to some of the 13 teachers who are now dependent on the charity of families of the kids they teach. The parents pool money to pay the teachers — it’s an interest-free loan, to be repaid later. The teachers gather before a parent at an appointed time inside or outside the school and collect the cash equalling the salary.

While the parents said they wanted to help the teachers “with good qualification” so that their children’s education would not suffer, the school managing committee said “vested interests” were trying to malign the institution.

Managing committee member Sitaram Dalmia said: “They (those with vested interests) are creating disturbance in the school by misleading the teachers and the guardians so that students leave and the institution shuts down.” He said some people were eyeing the 10 acres the school had.

Asked if the teachers were not being paid, he said: “If my employees don’t listen to me, why should I pay them?” He would not explain what the teachers were not “listening to”.

Asked how the salary problem would be solved, Sitaram Dalmia said: “We will settle the issue through court and will not attend talks across the table.”

One of the contract teachers, Rajaram Singh, a 27-year-old MA in Hindi, said he had earlier worked in an NGO. “The NGO did not pay me well so I took up the teaching job here. I was recruited under an 11-month contract and that was to be renewed if my performance was good. The contract has already been breached because we have not got our salaries. But I have no option but to teach here,” he said.

“In north Bengal, there are few employment options in the private sector. Teaching is the only good option here for me,” said Rajaram, who used to get Rs 4,000 in the NGO that required him to do field work all day. He used to get Rs 5,000 in the school.

“As I have an MA degree, I decided to join this profession. Now, I have landed a job but my salary has been withheld. I cannot leave because I have worked here and cannot forego my salary of four months.”

Trouble for the teachers started in January when the school increased the annual fee from Rs 1,300 to Rs 1,900 for old students and from Rs 5,000 to Rs 5,525 for those taking fresh admission to Class VI.

The state-aided Hindi-medium school that teaches from Classes VI to XII hiked the annual fees, saying it could do so because it is a linguistic minority institution. The parents refused to pay the hiked fees, challenging the school’s claim of linguistic minority status. There has been no closure to this debate but the teachers working on contract became its first casualty.

From March, the school stopped paying the 13 teachers citing the parents’ reluctance to pay the higher fees. Since then, some of the guardians of the 1,200-odd students have raised money thrice to pay them. The teachers used to get between Rs 4,000 and Rs 6,000 as salary.

“We work on a no-work, no-pay basis. I continue to work here because I have already spent six years in this school. I have elderly parents, a wife and a son to look after,” said 31-year-old Pankaj Kumar Gupta, who has an MSc in mathematics. “The guardians are providing us loans, which is very considerate of them. But that is not the permanent solution. They are worried that if we leave the school, it will affect the education of their children,” he said.

Sunil Kumar, who is a graduate in chemistry, had worked in a private bank and a call centre in Siliguri but took up the job in this school as he felt “teaching is a respectable profession”. His stint here, which has reduced him to standing in line before a parent to take loans, has been a lesson much tougher than any in chemistry he has taught in class.

“I applied for this job with the idea that teaching is a respectable profession…. Unfortunately now, I have no option but to stay here because of lack of job opportunities and I cannot apply in other schools because I don’t have a BEd degree,” the 30-year-old teacher said.

The teachers said the Siliguri Hindi High School Guardians’ Committee collects money from its members for the teachers’ salaries. When enough money is pooled, one of the guardians comes at an appointed time and gives the money to the teachers.

Sandipan Bhattacharya, the president of the Siliguri Hindi High School Guardians’ Committee, said the blocking of salaries of the 13 teachers was “a gross violation on the part of the school management”. He said the school management should understand “that if these contract teachers leave, then the state-approved teachers alone will not be able to teach the 1,200 students”.

He said the guardians wanted to help the teachers and “they have contributed Rs 1,000 each. These teachers have good qualifications and the parents understand that their children’s education will be hampered if they leave.”

The 13 teachers had been hired by B.P. Dalmia, the secretary of the managing committee. Sitaram Dalmia, the member of the managing committee, is B.P. Dalmia’s son.

Sitaram Dalmia said: “The guardians fail to understand that their children’s education will suffer. We are a minority institution and have the privilege of appointing teachers and stipulating fees without any state interference. The amount of Rs 240 (the maximum that a state-aided school can charge) is not enough to fund teachers’ salaries, do repairs, buy books for the library and items for games.”

Among the 13 teachers, seven have post-graduate degrees and six are graduates. Two of the teachers have BEd degrees but have not got jobs elsewhere. Some of the others are completing their BEd courses through distance education.

In 2012, when the last SSC exam was held, 7 lakh aspirants wrote the test. Of them 30,000 were given jobs. But the state government is in a bind now over the SSC because Union HRD minister Smriti Irani has indicated the exemption allowed to non-BEd students to sit for the test would not be extended beyond 2014.

The teachers were asked if they would seek legal recourse but they were reluctant to take questions on this matter. The prospect of having to stick around in this job without pay looms over them, they said. One teacher said the 13 could be harassed by the school if they complained against the management to authorities.

The school at present has 11 state-approved permanent teachers and two non-teaching staff members. Four of the 11 teachers have been recruited through School Service Commission after its commencement in 1998.

The others were appointed by school managing committee before 1998.