On Friday July 10, Aathvan Bhanawat went to his rooftop and torched eight degree- certificate photocopies in broad daylight. Nearly 50,000 such frustrated fires were reported across Maharashtra that day. â€œI thought there would be some use to these certificates. But whatâ€™s the point of a degree that even the government does not consider important?â€ said Bhanawat.
His bitterness towards the government is shared by the members of the D.Ed. B.Ed. Student Association Maharashtra Rajya who have been awaiting the completion of the State teacher recruitment process for the last three years.
The thousands of fires lit on Friday were part of the â€˜Degree Jalaoâ€™ (burn the degree) and the â€˜Jawaab doâ€™ (answer us) protests that demanded government addressal of pending grievances.
According to Student Association member Rehman Pathan, nearly 1,95,000 students applied for school teaching posts in December 2017 following an unofficial announcement of inducting a large number of candidates as teachers.
In February 2018, the then State Education Minister declared that 24,000 teaching posts would be filled. In 2019, this number was reduced to nearly 12,000 posts.
In August 2019, only 5,800 candidates were listed on the governmentâ€™s â€˜Pavitra Portal.â€™ During the COVID-19 pandemic, the applicants were informed that all recruitment will be suspended until further notice. â€œAt some point, you reach the end of your patience. Many of the applicants are M.A. or Ph.D. holders. What do we do with these degrees if the government keeps ignoring us?â€ he said.
Deprived of any form of employment some students turned to other forms of occupation. Rahul Kharat who gave the Maharashtra Teacherâ€™s Aptitude and Intelligence Test (TAIT) in 2017, now works as a farmer in a family plot near Pune.
â€œI was emboldened by Education Minister Vinod Tawadeâ€™s 2018 promise to induct 24,000 teachers. However, as nothing came out of it, I began growing corn and sugarcane on my plot. Today, because of the pandemic, even that mode of income had stopped,â€ he said.
Sugarcane crops had already received suffered a severe hit during the 2019 floods in Maharashtra. This year, many farmers reported lack of manpower to harvest the crops that were left standing in the field.
Regarding the recent announcement on recruitment suspension, Kharat said, â€œAlready three years have gone by [since he gave his TAIT.] They should at least finish the pending list of inducted teachers until the lockdown ends.â€
Similarly, another member of the Student Association, who did not want to be named, said she used to work on a Clock Hours Basis at a school 40 kms from their home in Satara district. Owing to the lockdown both she and her spouse had to stop working. â€œWe canâ€™t talk about the future of Maharashtra if we overlook the condition of the primary schools. Rather than COVID-19, weâ€™re dying due to unemployment,â€ they said.
This sentiment is further reinforced by teachers already working in Maharashtraâ€™s schools. Satyanarayan Salunkhe, a teacher who was transferred from Osmanabad to a public school in Devgad, Sindhudurg, said that recruitment would help with the inter-district transfer of teachers.
Salunkhe said that teachers in Sindhudurg have been excluded from inter-district transfers for the last two years.
â€œThere are above 400 vacancies in Sindhudurg district alone. If new teachers are appointed here by the Pavitra Portal process, teachers can work at their home district and everyone can work happily,â€ he said.
On the other hand, the deputy secretary of the Pavitra Portal said that their work is bound by government direction. â€œPavitra portal is a very first online teachers recruitment initiative of Government. Let us not mistake it as a recruitment board like MPSC,â€ said the deputy secretary.
Over the years, many candidates filed various petitions to the High Court regarding the eligibility criteria or the reservations provided in the process. While these judgements are made the recruitment is delayed as well.
The series of events finally came to a jarring halt in June this year when the state Cabinet Ministry stopped all government recruitments. We are still trying to put up the complete list of 2019 but due to the current pandemic situation, there is ban on recruitment. We have sought the permission to complete the remaining process. We are still awaiting orders," said the deputy secretary.
Rehman Pathan agrees that over the years around eight petitions have been filed. The most recent was a complaint against the reduction of Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes reservation by 50 percent.
â€œSome eligible candidates filed a complaint that their names were not included in the 2019 list. As a result, even the incomplete result is being revised,â€ he said. The Students Association persistently tries to attract the attention of the government officials to their pleas but to no avail.
â€œWe once approached State School Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad and she told us she would discuss the matter with other officials but she did nothing about it,â€ said Pathan.
According to Bhanawat, authorities have conveyed this â€˜we-are-with-youâ€™ sentiment for the
last seven years. â€œOver the weekend, I received a message from the Mahavikas Aghadi that said â€œwe are with
you.â€ Everyone keeps saying this but nobody does anything,â€ said Bhanawat.
Vallari Sanzgiri is a graduate from the Asian College of JOurnalism, Chennai. She currently lives in Mumbai as a freelance writer. To contact Vallari send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org