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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Meet private school principal in Telangana, forced to sell idli on a cart

The sweeping economic distress triggered by the Covid pandemic and lockdown has pushed countless out of jobs, set off one of the biggest reverse migrations in recent times and pushed millions of small businesses to the edge.

Written by Sreenivas Janyala , Santosh Singh , Abhishek Angad | Hyderabad, Patna, Ranchi |
Updated: June 21, 2020 4:58:09 pm
Maragani Rambabu, a private school principal, now runs a food cart with his wife at Sathupalli in Khammam. (Express Photo)

The principal of a private school in Khammam is running a food cart, trying to sell idli, dosa and vada. A Social Science teacher in Ranchi is working on his paddy field. And an English teacher in Nalgonda has started selling insurance policies.

The sweeping economic distress triggered by the Covid pandemic and lockdown has pushed countless out of jobs, set off one of the biggest reverse migrations in recent times and pushed millions of small businesses to the edge.

One of the hardest hit has been private education. In cities and small towns across the country where private schools were seen as a passport to aspiration, teachers are on their knees, with parents unable to pay fees and managements left without money to pay salaries.

Read| 67% of workers lost jobs during lockdown: Survey by Azim Premji University

In most cases, these teachers are the sole breadwinners, which has meant that the distress has affected entire families. And several of them, heading households in cities like Patna and Ranchi, say they don’t have the luxury of packing up and going back to their villages.

“If the students do not return to school by July-August, things will get worse for us,” says Vidyasagar, a 28-year-old Science teacher in Bihar’s Shekhpura who is supporting his family with loans and a credit card.

“Schools are telling teachers that they cannot pay salaries as students have not paid fees since their parents have not got salaries or are out of jobs,’’ says Shabbir Ali, who heads a private schools teachers’ association in Telangana.

Read| Contours of post-Covid economy suggest a new framework of employment

“What can we do?” asks Sanjay Kumar, who owns Ankur Public School in Danapur near Patna. “We have started online classes but over 70 per cent of parents are still not able to pay the fees. Many don’t have smartphones for their children to access the online classes. We are all trying not to sink together.”

The Sunday Express tracked down several private school teachers, from north to south — and found all of them caught between the Covid distress and their dream of providing a better life for their families.

Maragani Rambabu, 36 Principal, Khammam;
Salary: Rs 22,000,
Now: Zero

He was in charge of Millenium English Medium School in Telangana’s Khammam till the lockdown was announced and the school management decided that they don’t need a principal till the school reopens. With no other source of income to support his wife, two children and mother, Rambabu started a food stall when the lockdown was relaxed on June 5. “It felt odd at first… I bought a cart with Rs 2,000, and started selling idli, vada and dosa, along with my wife. At the end of the day, we make a profit of around Rs 200,’’ he says.

Badeti Ravi, 30
English, Nalgonda;
Salary: Rs 16,000,
Now: Zero

Ravi was a teacher at Krishnaveni English Medium School in Nakrekal near Nalgonda in Telangana. “The school management told me there is no need to come to school unless called. I have not got my salary since April. A friend, who is an insurance agent, introduced me to a few companies and I am now selling insurance policies,’’ he says, adding that he earns about Rs 5,000, which is “not enough” to support a family of six.

Laganlaal Mahato, 40
Social Science, Ranchi
Salary: Rs 5,000. Now: Zero

He taught students up to Class 8 at Saraswati Sishu Vidya Mandir at Ranchi in Jharkhand and used to earn Rs 5,000 a month. Mahato stopped receiving his salary in April, and now works on his 1.5-acre paddy field with his family of of six, including his wife, their three children — the eldest is a college-going son — and his father. “Until last year, I used to hire labourers. But now, I am working myself because there is no money to pay the workers,” he says.

Mutuk Laal, 68
Mathematics, Ranchi
Salary: Rs 4,930. Now: Zero

He is one of the founding members of Prastaavit Uccha Vidyalaya in Ranchi, with about 500 students. He last received his salary of Rs 4,930 in April, and is dependent on his son who runs a mobile repair shop. “I don’t have money to buy even a cup of tea,” he says. “Our school charges only Rs 150-200 per student in tuition fees. But the students can’t pay now,” says Laal, who stays with his family of three in Sukruhuttu village.

Abhishek Ranjan, 31
IT, Patna
Salary: Rs 18,000. Now: Rs 9,000

With an additional income of Rs 5,000-7,000 from tuition, Ranjan was “living happily” at a rented home in Danapur with his wife and their four-year-son. “But since April, the school has been giving us only half our salaries. I had to send my wife and son to my parents in Gaya, where my father is a smalltime farmer growing grain and vegetables. I have saved on Rs 3,000, which was spent on milk every month, and Rs 2,500 on rations. I have stopped eating non-vegetarian, and get rice and wheat from my village,” he says. Ranjan is looking for home tuition but has not got any response from parents who are fearful of a Covid spike.

Vidyasagar, 28
Science, Shekhpura
Salary: Rs 25,000. Now: Zero

Vidyasagar supports a family of seven, including aged parents and a younger brother who is pursuing an ITI course. But without a salary since April, he has not been able to pay his brother’s fee. These days, he travels 22 km daily on his bike to reach his workplace, Usha Public School in Shekhpura, on petrol paid by credit card, so that he can conduct online classes. “We led a comfortable life before the lockdown. And I had taken a loan of about Rs 1.25 lakh for other purposes. But now, I have taken another loan of Rs 30,000…no salary means more loans,” he says.
How long will this distress last is anybody’s guess. Owners of some of the schools say that they don’t want to put pressure on students because their parents may have lost their jobs. “We want to give them some time but we don’t have the reserves to last for long. We are also worried that many may drop out and join government schools,” says the managing director of a school in Patna. “No one talks about us when they discuss a stimulus package, all we can do is to wait and hope.”

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