There are an estimated 11,700 private schools which have not paid salaries since March 15, forcing many teachers to look for alternate employment at farms and agencies.

Private school teachers in Telangana turn to daily wage work amid COVID-19 crisisVemula srinivas (left) and Sheikh Zaheer Ahmed (right)
Coronavirus Lockdown Friday, May 22, 2020 - 17:16

“I gave my first speech when I was in Class 10. It was about becoming a teacher as it was a noble profession and it can mould the lives of students and thereby, society,” says Vemula  Koteshwar Rao, with a hint of frustration in his voice.

Rao was a Mathematics teacher for 14 years. He permanently left his ‘dream job’ in March, vexed with the current situation arising out of the COVID-19 crisis.

Rao is now an agricultural labourer under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), owing to the lockdown and the consequent pay cuts and terminations that private sector schools have imposed on teachers across the state of Telangana.

“Despite meagre salaries, several teachers are continuing to work in the field out of passion for the profession. One cannot even make savings out of the salaries that we get in a private school to survive in situations like a lockdown,” points out Koteshwara Rao.

He further says, “Though I am teaching hundreds of students everyday, I am not in a position to buy a nice frock for my own child when she asks me. And in this lockdown, everything has become only worse. I am unable to even feed my family as the schools are not clearing salaries due to lockdown.”

Now, Koteswara Rao is working in agricultural fields, along with other daily wage labourers for Rs 150 per day to survive.

“At least I could leave the teaching profession and do this work. But there are several private teachers like me who are suffering, who cannot even switch professions. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao should also think about the underpayment and the unemployment that is prevailing in several parts of Telangana,” he urges.

Several teachers suffering

The situation is the same with hundreds of private school teachers. Many of them, struggling to make ends meet, have been queueing up, along with migrant workers and white ration card holders, to avail essentials.

A few teaching associations are supplying groceries to private teachers who don’t have any income now.

According to the Telangana Private Teachers Forum, there are 11,700 government-recognised private schools that have not paid salaries since March 15, where about 1.5 lakh teachers are employed in these schools.

Finding odd jobs to survive

Some teachers have moved to their native districts and are doing odd jobs to feed their family.

Another teacher, who used to work in a private school in Hyderabad, is now working as a daily wage labourer in a gas agency. He has shifted to Mancherial district after the school terminated him without clearing his pending dues, on account of the lockdown.

He now waits for the truck load of cylinders so that he would have work to do on that day.

“I am getting paid Rs 300 on a working day. We get work when the truck comes and it usually comes two to three times a week. A group of five people have to load and unload all the 500 cylinders from the truck. It's really a difficult job. We are not used to such hard, laborious work, but what to do, there is no other option, I have to feed my family members who are dependent on me,” sighs Sheikh Zaheer Ahmed, who is currently fasting for Ramzan.

Private schools, who contributed to the Chief Minister’s relief fund, have also been called out for cutting teachers’ salary without intimating them.

“We don't have any problem if the school contributes to the relief fund. But they should let us know that they are doing so. And now, they are not even in a position to pay our salaries for the coming months. They are making calls and indirectly stating that we are being terminated,” laments Srinivas Telukuntla, another private teacher.

He adds that it has become difficult to survive in cities like Hyderabad where they stay in rented houses. “As the lockdown is being gradually lifted, I'll also try to go back to my native district so that rent would be saved at least. I need to start doing some other work for at least next couple of months as schools might not be reopened till August,” says Srinivas.

Meanwhile, some teachers are left wondering if their school managements are using the lockdown as an excuse to implement their cost-cutting methods.

Earlier, the Telangana government had instructed not to remove any outsourced or contract employees amid the lockdown. The Education Department had issued orders stating the same. However, these directives have meant nothing for the private schools.

The Education Department has been receiving several calls from desperate teachers regarding their pending salaries. However, teachers allege that apart from calling the concerned management, the Education Department has been toothless in dealing with the issue.

“When we call the school management after receiving the teacher's complaints, the management says that they will clear dues in the next ten days and that they do not have any money due to lack of fee collection,” added an official from the School Education Department on the condition of anonymity.