Did the school teacher die of heat stroke?
In Delhi government schools, remedial classes are being held despite the soaring mercury. In one tragic case, 48-year-old teacher Uday Jha’s family say his death is because of this
At the start of every month, I put a quote up on the wall on the side of my bed. But this time I didn’t get a chance to…” Akanksha Jha says, as her voice trails off and she turns to look at the wall which still has a thought for the month of May written on a pink paper.
June 1, had something else in store for the family of five. “That day, I woke up like any other at 4 am. My dad wakes up around the same time. He came into my room to check on me. Papa also wanted his shirt and trousers pressed for the next day (Sunday) as there was an exam which he had to conduct. He said: Tomorrow many staff will come from outside so I should be well dressed”.
“That day he was so happy, he was in such a good mood. Mum packed him lunch and he left for work at 7 am, as he always does. He came back at 1:30 pm. He was still in a very good mood. My brothers keep fooling around… that afternoon they had switched on the air-conditioning and as soon as they heard dad come back, they switched it off. He came in and asked them to turn it back on.”
Uday Jha, 48, Akanksha’s father, then complained to his wife about the heat outside, and that he felt like his body was burning up. “He didn’t even come into my room as it has just a fan, and called me out to the AC room, to come sit with him”, Akanksha, who has just passed her 12th grade, tells us.
The ritual was, that the family would wait for their father to come back home, so they could have lunch together, but that day they couldn’t. “He had a sip of water and suddenly complained of feeling unwell”, Akanksha says, her body shaking but holding back tears, she adds: “It just happened in seconds. I never thought something like this would happen to us”.
Jha, with a PhD in Sanskrit, taught at a Delhi government school: Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya in Ambedkar Nagar. This summer, he had been taking extra classes for students of 10th-12th grade. Last year too, the family says it was the same story — no summer break.
“In a matter of 15 minutes since coming home he fell unconscious. I held him in my arms, we did whatever we could, called for help, got a car to take him to the hospital… I carried him… I kept rubbing his hands, pressing his chest. We did everything right. When we reached the hospital, we thought he would be fine,” Akanksha tells us, trying to piece together every detail she has perhaps played out every hour since then.
But when the doctor called her in, “He told me that my dad died before he reached the hospital.”
Ten days later, we sit in Akanksha’s room trying to understand the circumstances behind her father’s death and the family’s allegation that Jha died of heat-stroke. Akanksha reiterates this, holding the Delhi government responsible for their bereavement. “If he had been allowed the vacations, then I think he would have been here with us right now. Work pressure destroys people’s lives”.
The Government School Teachers’ Association (GSTA) backs the family’s claim. Ajay Vir Yadav, the general secretary, says that since the Aam Aadmi Party government came in, “Their guidelines have just been to show parents that we are teaching your children 12 months of the year”.
“This summer it has touched 48 degrees Celsius, and you still want schools to be open. We have no right to take leave, and if we do, we get a circular. Teachers anyway get scared fast,” Yadav says as he then points to the case of Jha and how he had been complaining about the heat for some time.
Yadav also talks about the earlier system of having different centres for sports, arts and extra classes. “Now they want all the schools open in summer”.
The Delhi government has not got in touch with the family. However, a couple of days after Jha’s passing away, they did suspend the summer sports and yoga coaching camps in its schools.
Yadav also claims that all remedial classes have now been suspended.
For the family, the wait for the post mortem report is daunting. Akanksha’s mother, Ram Rita Jha, walks in as we speak to her daughter, and she lets her tears flow freely as she thinks about what lies ahead: “I have three kids, and now no breadwinner. I don’t know what to do. The Delhi government has said nothing, we need them to help us”.
“My kids need admission. My husband was thinking about our daughter’s admission”, now all of it, she says lies in a limbo.
“He would walk to the bus stop to take a bus, sometimes take a rickshaw. I would tell him to buy a car and he would say no, we are simple people, and should be attached to the soil we were born in”, Rita says.
“My husband never thought about himself, nor have I ever thought of my needs, we only think about our children. Everything was about making something of our daughter, our sons. But now what can be done?” she asks, again breaking into tears.
They speak about their father/husband and all that he did. He never complained, Akanksha says, about his job, but she knows it wasn’t easy. “Even in vacations he didn’t get rest. Every person gets rest. Rest is necessary”.
But while she blames the Delhi government for her father’s death, at the same time she admits that the government is doing a good job on the education front. Her two views obviously do not counter each other. “I am myself a product of government schools. I have seen how the schools have been transformed. I agree discipline is necessary for teachers but they should be able to work freely. Instead, the Delhi government pressurises the teachers too much.”
“When dad would take an off, the Principal would call. Once when he had fever and didn’t go to school, the Principal rang up and asked him to come to school. It was compulsory. Yes, it’s required to be strict because the education of children suffers but what about the needs, and the health of the teachers?”
For Akanksha, her father was “like my best friend”, with whom she would share everything. “He understood me completely. He supported me for everything. He believed in me…I use to think that I will do everything for my dad. That when I start earning, I would give him my first salary…”
Akanksha missed her admission exam for Jamia Milia Islamia but hopes to do Bachelor’s in Science. Of her two younger brothers, one is in 9th grade and the other has taken diploma course after 10th grade.