Some of you might have missed me in your inbox. Others might think I’d run out of things to say or that the DH’s blogging frenzy has eclipsed my own. All wrong – truth is I’ve been busy with work (and a bit of play) and it’s left me with little time to share my thoughts out loud. I thought I’d re-cap on an event I didn’t get to share . About 3 weeks back, we were disconnected from the rest of the world: no phones, no TV and no internet because the electricity employees joined other government employees protesting the bifurcation of the state of Andhra Pradesh in to Telangana and Seemandhara. When we lived in the Nilgiris we went 3 days without electricity because of a landslide that swept away much of the electric poles and the hill we lived on too. Acts of nature one has to come to terms with – and it was the Nilgiris, beautiful with or without electricity.
But this time we were plunged, against our will, in to the stone age because of a cause we have no connection to or understanding of. All we could do was comment or portend what the striker’s next moves would be. Essential services like water, electricity, sanitation, street lights were all affected by the striking government employees. The first lot of people to go on strike were the Road Transport Corporation employees. Due to their strike action since July 31st protesting the bifurcation of the state, government schools also had to shut down. From July 31st to August 26th, the RTC lost Rs261 crore (1 crore = 10 million) due to their striking employees. Most departments of Vizag districts have lost colossal sums of money due to striking employees: in July, excise collections in the district stood at Rs 32 crore, but plunged to Rs 3 crore in August; commercial tax collections from Vizag dropped to Rs 1.20 crore in August as against Rs 30 crore in July; collections of Eastern Power Distribution Corporation plunging to Rs 60 crore in August as against a monthly average of Rs 250 crore. It’s not just the state that’s lost money but think of all those people who wanted to register land, get a car registered, settle a dispute at the zilla parishad – all met with locked doors.
Over 100 days ago when the RTC strike action began (it lasted 65 days), the DH and I observed that in the place of buses a plethora of unregulated transport modes had cropped up in the city. Autos are making a killing because they were the only ways to get around if you didn’t have a car or bike. It’s usually the poorest who take the bus and it’s the poorest who now cannot afford to get around using autos. Once again it’s the poorest in society who are affected by the actions of the few (here a few is about 5000 employees, Non-Gazetted Employees).
As the weeks and an entire month dragged on, my domestic help’s 3 and 4 year old had still not gone to (government) school and it struck me that these kids were being significantly discriminated against because of the strike. The government’s duty is to provide education for all, (Article 8 of the constitution) which means keeping schools open and teachers in. Private schools were making up for lost time by holding classes on weekends, before 9am or arranging special modes of transport. But government schools were shut down for over 2 months. How many of those kids do you think will never return to school, even after the strike action has been called off?
I began to wonder whether there was a legal claim to be made – can a parent’s association sue the government for delaying resolution of the issues and therefore jeopardising the learning of abilities of young children? Many studies from social to biological have shown that children whose primary school education is disrupted, later on in life have diminished earning capacity, health and parenting abilities. The parents of children who were forced to stay home because of the strike could see their kids growing more and more restless and anxious as exams were postponed while their peers in other parts of the country, raced ahead to prepare for their finals. Of course, later on in the game, the government considered enforcing ESMA- Emergency Services Management Act, forcing all government employees back to work. Eventually it was Cyclone Phaillin that spared them from taking that confrontational stance.
My anecdotal evidence is the difference I have observed in my domestic help’s son. He’s not the brightest star in the sky and before he went to school, he couldn’t really speak even at age 3. A week after I urged them it was time to put him in school, I could hear him shouting out alphabets and numbers rather than mere grunting sounds. Unfortunately for him, the strike happened and schools shut down 3 weeks later. In that time he has gone back to grunting and not speaking much. His parents have never been to school so it’s not like they can teach him at home while school is closed. There must be a case for diminished capacity here – the effects of the strike on a child’s brain development by not being in school. I’m not a lawyer but I wonder if there is a legal claim to be made or have I been watching too many re-runs of The Practice?
The Andhra Pradesh Recognised Private Schools Managements Association approached the High Court on bringing schools under ESMA. It is still pending for want of response from the government. But what of government run schools? These are the schools where the less privileged get an education: those who cannot afford to pay to send their children to private schools, those who are most in need of a good education to rise out of the cycle of poverty, those who seldom have a voice against government – they are the families that need High Courts to fight for them.
In July of this year, the Kenyan National Association of Parents threatened to sue the government for its shoddy handling of the strike action taken by teachers. I wonder if anyone will threaten to do the same in Andhra.
It was only on the 21st of September that the Hindu ran a piece about how parent’s were worried that their children’s academic performance could suffer due to the strike. The link I’ve provided is the story that ran in the Hyderabad edition – the piece in the Visakhapatnam issue was much smaller and I cannot seem to trace it online. I’d been barking on about the issue for months before they ran a story on it. I was also told by my family in Tamil Nadu that their editions of the Hindu had absolutely no coverage of the strike action for many months. It was only until the electricity and water was cut off did it make national news. Why weren’t people talking about this sooner?
We then came to the dismal conclusion that it’s only when people start to die, when essential services are cut off and cities are burning that it makes news. Peaceful protest doesn’t get national coverage. So while there is 95% enrolment in primary school, only 41% of children in India make it to grade 5. The type of children who don’t make it is a no-brainer. We don’t need strike actions to exacerbate this shameful statistic.
This is just one of the things that’s been on my busy mind.
More to come on Diwali and the vegetable garden: there’s an oddly shaped cucumber and an off-season mango to inspect.
It’s good to be back!