“It’s always tough for a working woman — running the house as well as going out to work. We have to run like machines,” says Kuntal Nilesh Sorathiya, 45, a primary school teacher in Jalalpore area of South Gujarat’s Navsari district, turning on the ignition of her moped as she leaves home for “election duty”.
It’s 8 on a Wednesday night and it has been over 15 hours since the “machine” came to life at 4.30 am. She has just finished her dinner with her husband and her in-laws, done the dishes, cleaned the kitchen and is heading out to Shahbhuvan Society, a residential complex of high-rises and row houses that’s a 10-minute ride from her house.
Ahead of the 2019 general election, government teachers in the district have been assigned election duty — besides door-to-door verification of the electoral list, Booth Level Officers such as Kuntal have been instructed to report for work at verification camps on Sundays. The latest drive, which started on October 1, ends on October 15.
Non-compliance of the directive can lead to consequences, as three teachers in the district found out. Last month, during an earlier verification drive, the three teachers who failed to turn up for poll duty were issued arrest warrants. On September 18, police teams were sent to pick them up — one of them, Nidhi Patel, was arrested from her classroom — and they were produced at the mamlatdar’s office, where they agreed to get back to poll duty.
“I don’t want to talk about this case, but the fact is, teachers, especially women teachers, have just too much to do. I have been a teacher for 25 years and I am proud of what I do, but all this additional work affects our teaching and takes away from our family time. Some teachers have to travel to villages far away from their homes for election work. Luckily for me, the area assigned to me is near my house,” says Kuntal, as she climbs up the stairs of an apartment block. Dangling from the crook of her arm is a plastic bag stuffed with voter lists and unfilled forms.
“I have been given a list of 1,200 voters. I have to verify details like names, addresses, surnames and rectify mistakes, if any, in the voter list. I have so far covered 200 names — I have fixed a target of about 25 names a day,” she says, pressing the doorbell of a flat on the first floor.
Kuntal introduces herself as a teacher and starts the exercise. The family of four sits around Kuntal as she verifies names, surnames, age and addresses. The family has a new voter — 19-year-old Mitul — and Kuntal fills in his details and asks for his passport-size photograph and age-proof documents.
“We also strike out names of voters who have moved homes or are no more. The work is tedious and I finish only around 10.30 pm,” says Kuntal.
On Sundays, Kuntal does the same work at a municipal school in the area, where she attends to voters who come to the centre. “For the last two Sundays, I have been working from 10 am to 5 pm,” she says, walking up another floor.
By the time Kuntal wraps up for the day, it’s 10.30 pm. As she starts her moped, she says, “I will only sleep around midnight… after spending some time with my son and checking WhatsApp and Facebook. I start my day at 4.30 am, and even then it feels as if I could do with more hours in a day.”
Her neighbours say the first lights to go up in their Smrutikul Society are in Kuntal’s single-storey row house number 52, where she begins her day with a cup of tea and proceeds to sweep the verandah and parking area of her house, much before the others in the family wake up.
By 6.30 am, when her younger son Neel leaves home for his college in Bardoli where he is studying for a diploma in engineering, Kuntal has cleaned and dusted the house, and packed his lunchbox with roti-sabzi and filled his water bottle. Her elder son is in Canada, studying for his Master’s in engineering.
For the next few hours, Kuntal works without a pause — puja, followed by more cooking, besides making sure she has turned the washing machine on. By 10.15, Kuntal and her husband Nilesh Sorathiya, who runs a travel business, leave the house, riding separate vehicles.
At Municipal School Number 5 in Jalalpore, she says, “There are 150 students in our school from Classes 1 to 5. I teach all subjects for Class 5. After the daily prayers, I start teaching and check home assignments,” she says.
At 1.40 pm, during lunch break, Kuntal and the other teachers serve the mid-day meal in the classrooms. “Before serving the children, we taste the food to ensure the quality is good,” she says.
At 5 pm, after all the students have left, Kuntal locks her classroom and leaves the key at principal Ushaben Rathod’s office. On her way back home, she stops at the nearby market to stock up grocery and vegetables for the next day. “Tomorrow is another day. This is an unending cycle,” she says.