High degrees and low wages: The unending misery of Kashmir’s private school teachers

In a society where a large section avail literacy only to impart it to others, as teachers, is perhaps a telling remark on the classroom culture. In this scenario, those teaching in private schools continue to suffer from low wages, gruelling work hours and the larger societal indifference.

In a leading Kashmiri newspaper, where employment advertisements generate queues far beyond the requirements, a private school lately issued an ‘employment opportunity’ advert. The required qualifications asked were ‘not less than Masters with B.Ed. or M.Ed’, implying that the candidate should’ve at least spent 19 years on his education.

“The required qualification is of their desires,” says Mudasir Muhammad Ganai, MSc (Biotechnology), M.Ed working as private school teacher for last 8 years.

“There’s no room for negotiation for salary,” Ganai says, “because if you demand, there are dozens waiting in line. They’ve choices but we’re left with none.”

In 2010, Ganai began his teaching journey, with a monthly package of Rs 2,600. Since then, the hike has remained paltry, despite this qualified teacher teaching more than 6 Classes a day!

The criteria for promotion, he says, is not shared in writing, or at least not well known, if at all there is any.

With examples of people working for life for institutions, and retiring at same levels, the increment moves like a lazy snake, with no allowances, no job security, no medical securities, and years of toil ending in null.

For more than 25 years in various schools, Mohammad Shafi says he has helped produce the “cream of society” — doctors, engineers, administrative officers, all being his former students. But Shafi still gets home a mere Rs 7,000 per month to take care of his family’s expenses.

“Private school teachers are treated as mere servants,” Shafi, Masters in Mathematics, says. “There’s no value of degrees, and they can throw you out anytime suiting their moods.”

Teachers in private schools have to work like labourers, he says, teaching multiple classes a day. “Our colleagues in the government sector get 10 times our salary, by teaching not more than two classes a day,” he says. Despite knowing it all, Shafi’s ilk can’t even complain.

The making of a private school teacher follows a distressing, yet unattended trend.

It starts with a highly educated, unemployed youth in Kashmir — facing depression, underestimation and looked down upon by the society, for doing nothing, amid the dearth of opportunities in their homeland.

All these elements force them to get engaged anyhow. They then approach private schools, which in turn, makes hay while the sun shines.

“I tried in many schools and gave a number of interviews, but negotiations for salary were never successful,” says Aamir Nabi Dar, a postgraduate youth from Sumbal. “Even for Mathematics and Science subjects, I was never offered even Rs 5000 per month.”

Aamir found many of his friends—highly educated and unemployed—suffering from depression. “They feared to face society, if they got rejected in the interview for a private school teaching job,” he says.

Even the women—finding it safer, socially-acceptable and pleasing to matrimonial match-makers to join a private school for teaching—end up becoming major victims of this exploitation.

“It’s a taboo for a woman to get involved in business and other private sectors like men in Kashmir,” Shazia Bashir, working as a private teacher from Kreeri Baramulla, says. “Since job opportunities in government sectors are limited, so we’re left with no choice, but to work as private school teachers.”

Armed with a double Masters and a B.Ed degree from Kashmir University, Shazia started her teaching career with a salary of Rs 3,200 per month.

“Those who joined with me as plain graduates were paid 2,600 per month,” she says. “The increment I got is less than 1000 rupees in 5 years and there’s no surety for when will I be handed over the termination letter as four of my colleagues have already faced the same recently.”

With no extensive guidelines, and poor enforcement of existing ones, the authorities, more often than not, work on their whims and fancies. The school management have been making money, with little or no benefit of those who work in these institutions.

All this is happening, despite the fact that these teachers—the “unsung heroes”—remain a pivotal force behind the outshining results in these schools.

“I gave a precious 15 years of my life to a private school and I was terminated without any notice,” says Manzoor Ahmad, an ex-private school teacher from Baramulla. “The reason was that I wished to get the due respect that a teacher with such a huge experience deserves from the management.”

Manzoor fought hard against the discrimination, but it took him almost 2 years. “Once back, I was deprived of all the increments I held in the previous tenure and those two years were treated as a service break,” he says.

Since private school teachers are not allowed to form any union and there’s no platform which would represent them and make their grievances heard, Manzoor says that he was left heartbroken, and finally bid adieu to the teaching profession for good.

With some schools even hiring for the amount of Rs 2,200 per month, the general trend makes teachers with higher qualification stuck between exploitation and unemployment.

“A place like Kashmir where residents of other states work as labourers to make fortunes, its own fertile youth struggle in walls of private schools,” says Irfan Hafeez Lone, well-known lawyer-activist.

There are laws, for what should one write on social media, but no law has touched the issue of exploitation of private teachers, Lone says. “Government should come up with proper norms and laws regulating private schools, and there should be schemes securing jobs and post retirement lives of teachers, who’ve spent their whole lives in this profession.”

But presently, as the larger official and societal indifference prevails, majority of the private school teachers in Kashmir remain struggling with depression, expectations, feelings of incompetence, financial burdens, and wait for matrimonial proposals.

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