Patience, rather than pedagogy, is what the West Bengal government expects from its primary-school teachers. Mr Pranab Sengupta, teaching in a North 24-Parganas school, has had to put up with more than a decade of exploitation and harassment, and to no avail yet. His salary has remained a little more than twenty rupees over this entire period, in spite of a number of rulings from the Calcutta high court ordering the district school council to regularize his service and pay him his proper wages with arrears. Not only have these rulings been repeatedly flouted, but Mr Sengupta has also now been barred by the council from teaching in his school. The education minister has admitted — with apparent nonchalance — that there could be many more cases like Mr Sengupta’s. The protracted humiliation of a teacher, or teachers, undermines every claim made by the chief minister regarding the respect for learning, progressiveness, transparency and justice embodied by the government which he heads.
First, it shows up a school administration system which is exploitative and corrupt. Exploitative, because it allows the appointment of teachers by the managing committees of these schools, and then forces the schools to treat them like menials, denying them the pay and rights enjoyed by “approved” teachers. Corrupt, because it has been made amply clear to Mr Sengupta that he would have to bribe the council an exorbitant amount before it acts on the court’s order. The various trade unions and teachers’ associations are all part of this system, entirely unwilling to help somebody who refuses to have partisan leanings. Second, the fact that Mr Sengupta and his family now survive on his earnings from private tuition, technically banned for a government-school teacher, shows how difficult it is to reform the system without making fundamental changes in the way teachers are treated by the government. Third, the administration of these schools seems to thrive on the worst forms of outlawry, considering itself entirely exempt from the jurisdiction of the courts. Repeated rulings, including charges of contempt, cannot make it budge and pay up. And nobody seems to care at all. The over-all picture that emerges from this particular case is profoundly dismal. The predicament of some teachers in West Bengal implicates every level of the government and its bureaucracy in a shameful story of lawlessness, bad governance and a basic disrespect for learning.