I had applied for Tech Mahindra Shikshak Samman award in December 2011 on the counsel of one of my friends and colleague. At that time, after talking to the previous teacher winners of this award, I formed the perception that this award is given solely on the basis of the performance of the teachers. That this award does not involve factors which our department is perceived as employing, implying that this award is given on the basis of the teaching-learning processes the teachers engage in with the students, without any discrimination or favouritism. Here, I want to make it clear that at first sight it is difficult to say of this award that it involves any apparent and obvious discrimination and my decision to return the award too is not based only on this premise. Instead, they have employed a detailed procedure through which teachers are selected for this honour. First of all, they invite the applications from the teachers, out of which they choose some to appear for the interview and the interview panel consists of educationists from universities too. After this, on the basis of the interview, the teacher is selected for the observation/inspection of his/her class. So, a teacher is finally selected for the honour only having gone through the process of application, interview and observation.
My troubles started with the application itself. The postal-address I had given was that of a friend who teaches in a college of Delhi University. Hence, I got to know about my selection for the interview through this friend. He too was informed by one of his colleagues whose relative is employed with Tech Mahindra. My interview took place at the corporate office of Tech Mahindra in Noida. The atmosphere there was such that I could not feel comfortable in. The gathering there was dominated by people who were not using vernacular languages in their conversation. And it is not only I who was feeling uncomfortable but I found that other teacher friends were also feeling uncomfortable. One teacher whom I meet every year in the sports programmes of municipal body and who used to interact with lots of warmth and energy, was behaving very differently this time and was unsuccessfully making efforts to talk to me in English. After this I saw one of my acquaintances in the panel of interviewers who was looking and smiling at me. My interview went well, since I had mentioned in the application form about having set-up a Library for children and contributing to a booklet on corporal punishment through the efforts of our group (a team of school and university teachers and researchers). In March 2012 a three member team observed/inspected my class and in April 2012 I was informed through phone that I had been selected for the said award.
While this was taking place our group had started reading and interrogating about the increasing intervention of NGOs in government schools and came to know that NGOs and corporate houses (under the banner of Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR) are taking special interest in public schools* (with the active encouragement of the state). These NGOs and corporate houses through their reports are trying to prove that the decline in the educational outcomes of public schools is due to the teachers’ disinterest towards teaching and whatever improvement there is in the educational outcomes of the students of these schools is due to their (NGOs) interventions and presence. We have focused on this issue through a pamphlet titled “Beware! Danger Ahead”. After talking to several teachers, academicians and people working in the field of education, we have come to realise that this is not an abrupt happening but instead it is a part of the government’s neo-liberal policies. In this context we have also learned from teachers’ experiences that they are being increasingly burdened with non-teaching tasks for the last few years. A good number of students in our schools belong to first generation learners. On the other hand, even the minimum necessary support and infrastructure required to run a school properly has been absent. At the same time, the NGO and corporate houses have their eyes fixed on prime government land and school buildings. We encountered one such instance in the Municipal School at Nizzamuddin, where even after informing that we were municipal school teachers the guard did not allow us to enter the school. After having a conversation we get to know that the school functions till 1 PM and thereafter various short courses like computer training, personality development, English language etc. are run by one of the NGOs and these courses are not free but paid. By enquiring about these students we came to know that most of them are not from government schools or that locality but come from comparatively better off families. So what I could comprehend is that on the one hand these NGOs, while using public space and resources for free, in the guise of doing this ‘charity’ work collect donations from the national and international bodies and on the other hand charge fee from children who attend these commercial courses.
Now I come back to where I started from as to why I chose to return the Tech Mahindra Award. Here I will place the reasons for my refusal before you:
1. Bhopal Gas Tragedy – On the midnight of 2nd December 1984, a tragedy happened at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, as a result of which (according to the state’s documents) around 3787 people died on spot, 8000 people died within two weeks from the accident and another 8000 people died due to diseases caused by the effects of gas. The cause behind the tragedy was the carelessness and irregularities in the maintenance of the plant and its usage beyond capacity. All reports on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy revealed that the cost cutting in the essential required maintenance of the plant was negotiated at the price of peoples’ lives. Even today the affected people of Bhopal Gas Tragedy are struggling for justice. When the court delivered its verdict after 25 years, then Keshub Mahindra (then chairperson of the factory) was given the sentence of imprisonment for two years and he was released on bail on the same afternoon. He was the chairman of Mahindra Group till some time back. His name is associated with several NGOs. What can we make of such ‘philanthropy’ where peoples’ lives are put at risk for petty greed?
2. The status of a special teacher: I participated in the seminar organised by Tech Mahindra Foundation and found these ‘honoured’ teachers are made to feel as if they belong to a special category. No doubt the awarded teachers are honest and hard working and this or any other award for that matter only appreciates their efforts and work, but to categorise these teachers as special Tech Mahindra Foundation is simultaneously belittling others’ work. This categorisation is a product of colonial mindset – during the colonial period some Indians were given titles such as Sir, Khan Bahudar, etc by the British and they were hence isolated and distinguished from other Indians. These award winner teachers are doing their work with best efforts for which they should be praised but they are given a handsome amount of salary by the Corporation for their work. Hence, can we claim that there is any difference between the political motive behind Corporation and Corporate awards? Or, as argued by Romila Thapar, should we only accept awards and honours which are established and bestowed by professional groups? To receive an award from any private organisation implies that we agree to their educational and political beliefs. It cannot be denied that accepting such awards will result in intrusion, obligation and spinelessness. All this will necessarily lead to a compromise with autonomy.
3. Inviting the previous award holders for the seminar: The permission Tech Mahindra Foundation has from the Corporation clearly mentions about the Jodo Gyan workshop of the award holder teachers for half a day. Tech Mahindra Foundation had called the previous award holders for the workshop who attended it at the cost of their classes and were helping the Tech Mahindra Foundation with the administrative work for the workshop (e.g., distributing kits, photocopying, taking the signatures of participants etc.). Likewise, previous award holder teachers participated in the three day workshop and retreat during teaching days. How can then we assume that these awardee teachers have not been obliged to compromise with their professional ethics and responsibilities? None of the participants objected as to why the organisation of workshops and holidaying was not planned for the summer vacations when the announcement of awardees was itself done in the month of April. (Indeed, when I talked about this with some of the participants, they said that they preferred this to happen on school days).
4. Breaking trust by not conducting direct/straight talks: Due to some personal reasons I could not attend the first meeting of the awardees called by Tech Mahindra Foundation. After a few days the manager of Tech Mahindra Foundation complained to one of my former officials. This official, ordered me in a threatening tone to talk to the manager about which I have written earlier (see NGO kya hakikat kya fasana on our blog). When I applied for the Tech Mahindra Award it was only between me and Tech Mahindra. I did not make it through any third party or person. When I did not go for the meeting then Tech Mahindra Foundation should have spoken to me directly instead of complaining to my previous official and trying to create pressure upon me to. This was an act of betrayal of the relationship between me and the Foundation. Later I got to know that on 10 September 2011 there had taken place a seminar of all previous award holders in an MCD institute. The teachers not present in this seminar were issued a memo from Additional Director Education (MCD). The memo asked the teachers to state the cause of their absence from the seminar, along with issuing orders to participate in the next Foundation workshop (held on 8 October 2011). We as teachers need to ponder on this question: Are such awards an honour or bonded slavery?
5. Rethinking on the decision to give award: When I had a conversation with the manager of Tech Mahindra Foundation on the orders of my previous official (which I have talked about in detail before) then the person asked me, in almost a feudal and insulting manner, that it was necessary for me to attend every meeting irrespective of whatever commitments/work I have. Otherwise they could rethink on their decision to award me. I believe that any person with a semblance of self-respect would be hurt by such behaviour.
6. Facilitating award: I mentioned at the beginning that teachers applied for this award so that they did not come to hear that the award was given through ‘connections’. This perception of departmental awards implies that there is some lack in the capabilities of the awardees which is compensated through their relationship with influential officials. First, my friend’s colleague (mentioned earlier) made it explicit that since I was a friend of his colleague so I was certain to get this award. After this, one of my acquaintances sitting in the interview panel conveyed through his expressions that he carried the final decree over my award. And lastly, my former official made me realise that he was the one behind me getting this award. Now, if I accept this award then I will doubt my capabilities till the end.
7. The intrusion of NGOs and corporate houses in our schools: In last few months we have been trying to understand the reasons due to which NGOs and corporates are showing excessive interest in government schools. After some initial investigation we found that these NGOs and corporate houses are continuously intervening in the education system and trying to establish that they are the ultimate redemptory powers of education system. These organisations are ceaselessly trying to establish through their reports that the educational level of government schools is deteriorating day by day and the main reason behind this is the disinterest of teachers. Teachers are continuously burdened with more and more non-teaching tasks and hence a space is created conveniently for NGOs and corporate houses to intrude in education. This is not happening on its own but is being consciously planned at the level of policies. The Public-Private Partnership (PPP) policies are increasingly shaping the atmosphere and programmes of our schools. The profit making eyes of corporate houses are set through the NGOs on the respect and trust which has been created around the government schools with efforts and hard work over several years. By ‘honouring’ us and giving us awards they are indeed trying to create space for themselves among the community and teachers. And this is indeed a road to privatising the government education system. One example of this is the local body schools in Mumbai which have been handed over by the government to the NGOs and corporate houses because of state’s alleged inefficiency in running these schools.
Rest I leave to you: you can either call it my craziness or an act for preserving self-respect. But I refused to be a slave and it is giving me internal strength. If you have any disagreements then I am always available for dialogue.