On 31st May 2012 IndiaUnheard published a story about two teachers in rural Jharkhand who had not received their wages for over four years. The video was picked up by change.org, a campaigning website. A wildly successful petition followed—in 3 days over 4000 people had signed in support of the two teachers. 800 petitioners directly called and pressurized the District Collector. They demanded that the situation be rectified at once. Within a week, the teachers were able to breath a sigh of relief when they were paid a compensation of Rs.90000 each. They have since been receiving regular monthly salaries.
This is how it happened….
Dedicated and unappreciated
Ramdeo Soren and Pushpa Hansda had been teaching at the government school in Birakhap Village, Hazaribag District, Jharkhand since 2008 when their village panchayat (council) nominated them to do so. At that point they didn’t have formal training to do the job but their dedication to their students more than made up for that.
“When the school started, there wasn’t even a pucca structure for the school. During the monsoons the roof would leak. But I felt I didn’t have a choice. The village had selected us to teach the children and we were determined to,” recalls Ramdeo.
Both were unaware that their efforts would go unnoticed and unpaid over the next four years. Despite talking to the Block Education officer and the authorities higher up, they were not given their dues.
“The standard answer we would get was, ‘we will see what can be done’. We were both so frustrated. During the 4 years there were a lot of times when I thought of just quitting. I could make do with whatever little I would earn as a wage labourer and send money to my parents.” Says Ramdeo.
What kept them going?
“I kept thinking about the children. I like my job. There were also sisters from a missionary nearby we had approached for help. They urged us to stay. They would constantly tell us that things would get better.”
It was at this time that Pushpa and Ramdeo were introduced to Chunnu Hansda, the IndiaUnheard Community Correspondent, through a mutual friend.
“I figured that I would give it one more shot. We’d tried everything else, we’d make a video as well,” says Ramdeo.
Chunnu had at this point just returned from the IndiaUnheard training camp and was out in his village looking for stories to produce. He selected this as his first video.
“I was very hesitant to start with. I had never held a camera before this training and didn’t think I could make a proper video. But I decided to go ahead and started,” says Chunnu.
Making the video was only the first step. When the footage reached Video Volunteers’ Goa office, it tugged at the heart of everyone who saw it.
“I think everyone was touched when they saw a dedicated teacher like Pushpa in tears because she had lost all hope in the system. We all thought that it was essential to start a petition around this and got change.org on board. It took some doing to get all our facts in order before we started but once this was done it was easy,” says Ayush Kapur, Video Volunteers’ Programme Co-ordinator and Chunnu’s Mentor. The petition got over 4000 signatures in just 3 days.
With this done, the next step was to get in touch with the District Collector. At first he was elusive.
“I called three times and visited his office but he wouldn’t meet me. But I eventually got through. To this day I feel so proud that I went and interviewed him. The DC was a nice guy,” says Chunnu. “By the end of that first meeting we were friends and he promised that he would ensure that the Ramdeo and Pushpa would be paid.”
And paid they were…
Ramdeo and Pushpa have now received a compensation for 18 months of their work. This isn’t the complete sum.
Ramdeo says, “We are still owed money but I am not going to complain because this is at least a start. If I don’t get it, I will write it off as social service.”
The teachers are now being paid their salary on a monthly basis. In addition they have also just filled out applications for teacher training courses. Ramdeo is evidently thrilled at the events of the last few months. His passion for his work has been reinvigorated now that he doesn’t have to worry about where his daily meal will come from.
That these teachers have been paid is a massive success but there are more achievements here. For Chunnu, making this video and its consequent success have given him masses of self-confidence and made him a much better community journalist. He is not the timid fellow we met in early 2012.
“When I saw the impact that the video had made I felt so good! I feel now that yes, I am capable of doing something good with the video camera in my hand.”
For us at Video Volunteers, this story comes at a key moment; a lot of things with the system have felt wrong lately but there is hope that all is not doomed.
Chunnu says that when he went to meet the DC he joked about what his little camera would do. He replied “It is only because of this ‘little camera’ that we have been able to achieve such a huge success for these teachers today.”
Article By: Kayonaaz Kalyanwala
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