Kashmir: the death of a teacher

I dig deep and ponder to write, but my pen slips on the paper since we lost a teacher, a father of eight-month-old daughter, and a husband of poor woman. I look at the paper to see what I have written; I see nothing but tears. I muster courage and begin to write— believing that a story of a teacher needs to be told and chronicled. 


The death of Zia-ul-Haq, an adhoc teacher with the Jammu and Kashmir government, has brought to fore the risk that the employees face in executing the duties that are political in nature.  Such duties can cost life as was in the case of Zia when he became a victim of barrage of bullets fired by unidentified gunmen at Shupian region in Kashmir. Zia was returning after a day’s election duty in the region when his poll-staff bus was attacked on April 24, this year.


It is said the mistake of a doctor is buried under the earth, of an engineer in a wall, but the mistake of a teacher is reflected in the society. Philosophically, teachers are called as the nation builders, society-groomers, and what not! But had those philosophers who said such things about teachers been living in contemporary Kashmir, I wonder how would have they reflected on the times that we live in. It is strange that Zia didn’t die while building nation, but was forced to die in order to build the career of a politician.  


In general, Kashmir’s education department and teachers at large are the worst victims of a society that believes in miracles, but won’t walk to manufacture a miracle.  A teacher’s discretion has been simply snatched and most teachers now live a life of disturbance and humiliations.  


Within the education department, poor teachers have been tied with chains, and have been rendered hapless. The education department’s blanket policy has led to teacher’s aping rather than teachers initiating. Therefore, be it the ‘poor’ result of a class or a corporal punishment offence, the ‘apartheid’ teacher is taken to task.  


Those who govern the process and progress of teaching, learning and evaluation create and implement rules without analyzing the context of the region. On one hand a teacher has the bindings of corporal punishment and detention and on the other hand he is supposed to evolve good results which decide his future and progress.  


The tale of adhoc teachers— known here as Rehbar-e-Taleem— like Zia is worse than the ones on the permanent rolls of the government. Their salary is meager— two to three thousands Indian rupees a month for a stipulated time of five years. More importantly, there are no transfers and therefore the stagnation. There is no justification to these miseries meted out to adhoc teachers considering their qualification and work hours are like the ones on the permanent rolls of the government. 


Poet-Philosopher Mohammad Iqbal noted in one of his couplets: ‘Sheikh-e-Maktab Hai Ek Amarat Gar Jis Ki San’at Hai Rooh-e-Insani’ (A teacher is an architect; his industry is to shape a human soul).  The duty of a teacher is to contribute his time and technique in nourishing the soul of their students into capable personalities. Teaching itself sets the self priority for working towards this real profession. But soul building seems to be motive of a bygone age. Inside the system, the soul building has been adulterated with kitchen and bathroom building as extra jobs assigned to teachers under government schemes. Such extra-academic works only humiliate and harm the noble profession of teaching.  We have had examples of teachers making personal profits out of these schemes. 


Besides, the shortcoming of education set ups, the system outside has left no stone unturned in dissociating this profession and the teachers as the professionals. Teachers have been made into ‘spare parts of the govt machinery’ and have been used whenever the government runs out of human resource. Be it the population census or an election process, teachers are summoned to take over. This extra-burden has been a main reason for poor performance of the government-run schools in Kashmir. 


The election process is running since over two years. A section of teachers called Booth Level Officers, who have to perform the duty of enrolling voters, during an interaction told me that they have been ordered ‘to prioritize election assignments over a school day even if they face suspension from the education department’.  


Another such officer said that they necessarily have to respond to an intentional ‘missed phone call’ from the officials from local administration which monitors the election assignment works.  


“Whenever we get a ‘missed phone call’ from Tehsil official, we have to call-back and receive the instruction of a meeting or even a reproach for not having done a particular work,” the officer explained. The orders bear a seal: “Election Urgent”. Thus humiliating the word “urgent” itself as if mere “urgent” meant something else! Under this “Electing Urgent” order, the employees from top to bottom rank are in a whirlpool of stress which descends down only at midnight after they reach their homes and join their waiting families to dine together.    


On the intervening night of April 24 Zia’s family was thrown into a never-ending wait.


(Editing: Mufti Jameel Farooq)


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