Indian teachers falling victim to COVID

An estimated 1600 teachers in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh lost their lives to COVID-19 after being seconded to work as polling officers during elections at the height of the country’s second wave, according to the local teachers’ union.

President of the Uttar Pradesh Primary Teachers Association Dinesh Sharma said about 300,000 teachers were on duty for the four-phase local elections.

“At least 1621 of our members have died due to COVID while on duty for the panchayat [village council] election. Of the 1621 persons, 30 were non-teaching staff members and the rest 1591 were teachers,” he said in late May.

At the time, All India Primary Teachers Federation President Ram Pal Singh called on the government to stop the election process until the public health crisis was under better control. “All people, irrespective of their socio-economic status, have been affected by the pandemic,” Mr Singh said.

The tragic consequence of going ahead with municipal and state elections across India at the height of the second coronavirus surge, transported the virus back to rural and remote communities that had previously been largely free of infection.

Twenty-year-old Divya Singh told Sky News she did not believe her mother Sarita needed to die working during the Uttar Pradesh elections. “She kept on telling us it was her duty and she had to go or she would lose her job,” she said.

A primary school teacher, Sarita was a mother of three and only 48 when she was called up to do her civic duty alongside other teams of civil servants, which involved election training in mid-April with crowds of other teachers, followed by overseeing one of the voting days on 26 April.

Aniket Kumar lost both parents – who worked as principals in government-run schools – to COVID in the space of 10 days.

In early April, his father Lallan Ram, 59, and mother Meena Kumari, 55, attended a camp in Uttar Pradesh’s Siddharthnagar district to train government staff for the panchayat elections in the state.

Despite the second wave engulfing the country, the mammoth village council elections were held in four phases in April in which nearly 1.3 million candidates aspired for 800,000 posts.

Kumar, 26, said his parents were called for the training session and assigned election duty despite being in the high-risk COVID group due to their age and underlying health conditions. Ram died on April 26 and his wife on May 4.

Kumar told Al Jazeera: “I am 100 per cent sure my parents got infected at the election training camp because that was the only place where they went during that time. I drove them to the school where the training was happening myself. It was so crowded and no COVID-19 protocol was followed or any such arrangement made by the administration.”

The All India Primary Teachers Federation, active in 25 states across India with 2.3 million members, demands:

  • families of deceased teachers receive minimum 50 Indian lakhs (US$75)
  • a job be given to a member of the family of a deceased teacher, so that they can lead decent lives.