After handling ration distribution and working in quarantine facilities, teachers of Delhi government now have to issue challans to the public for breaking social distancing norms and lack of masks
Government school teachers’ role in the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic is not over yet. From distributing hot meals and rations, to turning their schools into relief centres, to marking Covid-positive homes, to registering positive patients in quarantine facilities, to the very latest, issuing challans for social distancing violation and no masks, it has been an endless task of tasks.
We spoke to a few teachers who requested their names be changed to maintain anonymity. Naveen is one of them. A teacher for the past 10 years, he was first deployed for Covid-19 duty in July as a nodal officer. He still ensures taping off and bifurcating rooms of Covid-19 positive patients in case of home quarantine, but now also goes out every day since September 5, to issue challans. The secondary school teacher starts off his day at 10 am, and his work continues until 5:30-6:30 pm.
“Back in July when I was put on duty, my wife was pregnant; she just had the baby on the 14th. I had to stay extra vigilant and stay away from her. Like a time when a Covid-19 positive patient was walking around without a mask, I stayed away for days in another room.”
In all these years, first as an MCD teacher and now with the Delhi government, he says various duties have been assigned to him. The most recent, before Covid-19, was election duty for the Delhi Assembly polls held in February.
His first pandemic duty brought in a lot of worry of infection, he says, and now while that is still present, he has other difficult situations to deal with. From shopkeepers telling their own problems to get out of paying a Rs 500 fine, to others on the street becoming aggressive when fined.
Naveen’s anxiety is not unfounded as Satish, a teacher with the Delhi government and his colleagues discovered over a week ago that issuing challans can be a dangerous task.
“About 100-150 people had surrounded me and my team as we cut challans. There were no police personnel with us that day. They forcefully took us inside a shop, asked for our ID cards, which till then had not been given to us. When we told them we didn’t have it, they threatened us, people in the crowd said, “Take their phone, beat them up”.
I called the DM’s office, then the police station was contacted. Nothing worse happened but I was so scared. That day I didn’t issue even one challan.
Before this incident, police would say no (to come with us), but since the incident it became compulsory, plus now I don’t go without them anymore, I say I will wait till they don’t come”, Satish says.
Another issue he says is the target set for them every day. Patriot spoke to him around 4 pm on September 15, till then he had cut just about seven challans. Their target when they first joined was 30 challans each day, and as it has not been possible, the target is to hit double digits.
“We don’t always get police personnel on time. So, we reach the police station and have to wait for a few hours, like today. So, most days even though I begin my day at 10 am, I am able to finish by 7 pm. On top of that we have no provisions for rest. We just have to keep walking around the entire day and have worked even Sundays since I started on September 4. Some of us brought this up with the SDM, but we were told, ‘It’s pandemic time, you will have to work’.”
After working through the day, he says he has other obligations to fulfil once he is back home, like making notes for his students, who are attending online classes.
Ajay Veer Yadav, General Secretary of the Government Schools Teachers Association says some teachers who began doing Covid-19 work at the beginning of the pandemic have still not received a break. “After writing many letters, the teachers who were put on duty at the quarantine facilities in Narela to maintain records are now given a break of 24 hours after a shift of 12 hours”.
He says since Covid-19 made an entry and teachers were put in for relief work, the worse that happened was during ration distribution: “Many of our teachers got infected during this time.”
About 30,000 teachers were put on Covid-19 duty with a major chunk being Delhi government teachers. By July there were 5,000 teachers who had been infected with the virus. A total of seven teachers — three MCD and four Delhi government teachers — died from the virus.
“We were assistants for everyone. And now we have to challan people. Someone wearing a uniform can ask for the fine of Rs 500 with some authority; in the case of teachers, it isn’t so. Even today the people who are cutting challans are taking online classes. They try and adjust the timings. Some take doubts over the WhatsApp group, and answer all queries.”
He himself worked in the hunger relief centre since the lockdown was imposed on March 25 and many were rendered jobless and penniless. Yadav says, he often used his official Twitter handle to speak about problems with relief work, and has continued to do so, speaking for the teachers as he is their representative. But tweeting has not gone down too well. He received a showcause notice on July 7, so he believes he is walking on thin ice with the government.
“They didn’t point out exactly which tweet was the problem but back then, for example, there was a time I had gone to a Ramjas Senior secondary school, in Karol Bagh where I had taught for 23 years. I had come to hear the teacher’s grievances. The school was being used as a relief centre for migrants, and there were 65 migrant labourers residing in the shelter home. They sent 4 towels, 8 soaps, 50 masks, 3 buckets and 3 mugs, and 4 or 5 sanitiser bottles. I took a photo of the material and tweeted, because the purchasing had not been done well. And questioned how this could be evenly distributed”.
He says he was also contacted by the Sub Divisional Magistrate about the tweet. “I am a representative for the teachers, if I can’t speak for them, then who will? It’s a recognised body. Isn’t this my freedom of speech?” he asks.
An administrator in a Delhi government school reiterated that during relief work, there were major issues of social distancing. “The support that we should have received and the way we should have been prepared, we were not.”
On top of that, he points to a lack of direction. “I was receiving orders from everyone. Those who come from the DM office become the boss, there’s someone coming from the CMs office, who behaves like the boss. When a task required two persons, 30-40 people were brought in. That time the fear had really sunk in, people were thinking we will get it (the virus) and die.”
For teachers, he believes the worst and lasting impact of the pandemic is the terror it creates. “The tension that the family would get infected was the biggest fear. There was no transport facility given — only orders which had to be followed. And wherever in the country it has spread is because of lack of planning. People just jumped on the food grains that were being given, free ration was being given and the actual poor were just reeling on the roads”.
While that relief work is now over, many teachers find themselves in the never-ending task of fighting Covid-19. As government employees, they say hope is that better facilities are provided to them.
(Cover: Police personnel accompany teachers on their challan duty. Recently, a teacher and his colleagues were unaccompanied by the police and found themselves surrounded by at least 100 people, angry over the fine // REPRESENTATIONAL IMAGE: GETTY)