* Parmod Kumar, Govt school Sanskrit teacher; Current duty: Pujari at Shri Maha Kapaleshwar Temple
* Sanjiv Kumar, Govt school PTI teacher; Current duty: Pujari at Shiv Temple
* Jai Krishan, acting Govt school headmaster; Current duty: Safed Gau Bachachha Temple
* Mohan Lal, Govt school Hindi teacher; Current duty: Safed Gau Bachachha Temple
Sitting before photos of Shiva and Parvati at the Shri Maha Kapaleshwar Temple, Parmod Kumar has been offering prasad to devotees. He has also been accepting chadava (offerings), including sweets and clothes.
The 51-year-old is among 91 government school teachers who have been officially assigned the duties of pujaris (priests) at temples in Bilaspur town during the six-day Kapal Mochan Mela that started October 30 in Yamunanagar district of Haryana. The teachers are reluctant to speak on their new assignment but their union has been vocal, saying such duties adversely affect studies in government schools.
Many teachers did not turn up for a session on October 29 to impart them training as pujaris. Bilaspur’s Sub Divisional Magistrate Naveen Ahuja, also the Mela Administrator, then wrote a letter to District Elementary Education Officer (DEEO) Suresh Kumar, attaching a list of teachers absent from duty. Ahuja asked the DEEO to instruct the teachers to be present for training next day or face departmental proceedings.
Ahuja told The Indian Express that most teachers joined the training programme Monday. “Only two-three teachers have sought exemption on medical grounds. Now there is no need to take action against anybody” he said. Ahuja defended the move, saying they have taken the help of employees of other departments as well to manage the fair where a large number of devotees show up. “Such duties are being given to teachers for the past five-six years,” he said.
Haryana BJP media in-charge Rajiv Jain too said: “Teachers have not been assigned duties to perform puja but to distribute prasad. The government can’t make regular recruitment for this because the mela is organised once a year. During Congress rule in 2013, as many as 130 teachers were assigned mela duty. This process has continued ever since.”
But Congress leader Geeta Bhukkal, who was Haryana Education Minister from 2009 to October 2014, said, “Such an issue (appointment of teachers as pujaris) never came to my notice earlier. This is just an attempt at saffronisation of education. Teachers are already overburdened with activities like Yoga Day, sanitation campaign, Beti Bachao campaign, marathon race, arranging radios for students so that they can listen to Prime Minister’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’, apart from training teachers. Haryana already faces a shortage of teachers.”
This is true of Parmod Kumar’s school. Since he is now a pujari, no teacher is left to teach Sanskrit and Hindi to his 72 students at the Government Middle School in Balachor in Yamunanagar district. “I am performing my duty as per the order of the administration,” Kumar said when he was asked about his new role.
Balinder Pal, also made a pujari, is the only Sanskrit teacher at the Government Senior Secondary School, Haripur Kamboj in Yamunanagar district. “I teach seven classes from VI to XII. Monthly exams of the students are scheduled from November 2,” Pal said. Another pujari, Jai Krishan is acting headmaster of the Government Middle School, Khizri in Yamunanagar district. The school has 251 students, from classes I to VIII. He teaches Hindi to 106 students of three classes (VI, VII and VIII). Before moving to the temple on October 30, he handed charge of his classes to other teachers. He also handed charge of headmaster to a counterpart in another school. “We have made adjustments to minimise losses,” Jai Krishan said.
Mela administrator Ahuja said they gave the duties of pujaris to Sanskrit teachers because “they know the mantras”. But Yamunanagar’s Deputy Commissioner Rohtash Singh Kharb’s October 27 order shows that teachers of almost all subjects have been assigned duties of pujaris. “Any lapse in duty would be viewed seriously,” Kharb warned in the official order.
The Yamunanagar district unit of Haryana Vidyalaya Adhyapak Sangh held an emergency meeting Monday to criticise the administration’s move. Jagpal Singh, district secretary of the teachers’ body, said, “The primary duty of teachers is to teach students. They should not be burdened with additional duties.”
Echoing similar sentiments, Wazir Singh, president of the Adhyapak Sangh, said, “We live in a secular country. Teachers should not be assigned duties of religious matters of a particular religion because similar demands to assign duties to teachers for religious functions of other religions will also be raised.”