The sun overhead is shining to its maximum. People around are giving a tough challenge to heat and sweat. And thus goes on farming in the paddy fields of Bandipora.
Mushtaq Ahmad (name changed) is one among them: the thousands of souls who 'suffer' for five years to become 'socially adjustable'. He is busy these days as his farms are in immediate need of irrigation. Mushtaq has been keeping a hawk's eye on the canals leading to his plot. Hue and cry over water-sharing follows. The evening tea arrives; 'field neighbors' invite each other for Nun-Chai. While sipping goes on, paddy fields give a mesmerizing look as water, slowly and steadily, creeps into them.
Mushtaq cannot leave his fields till the last point of his plot is irrigated. While he is watching his fields getting watered, Mu'azzin (Prayer Caller) from the minarets of Masjids gives a call for 'Maghrib' prayers (pre-dusk prayers). People throng Masjids but Mushtaq is still there. He fears that while he leaves for home, a mile away, his field neighbors might divert water from his canal to their own. "This is the best time to get the fields watered, so people are water hungry," he says, seriously, while he sets for his home, barefoot.
Jammu and Kashmir constitutes an agrarian society. People are mainly associated with agriculture; hence, it forms a major chunk of the state's economy. The state is sufficient in rice, vegetable, and fruit productions. In a population of about one crore souls, J&K has only six lakh government employees (approximately), leaving maximum of its population to feed for themselves.
Mushtaq is in his last year of 'safe' Rehbar-e-Taleem employment. This month, his psychological pressure will be over. He completes his five years of earning Rs 1500 as salary a month—the meager sum he uses to feed himself and his family of four.
"Government sector is a safe option vis-à-vis job, though I had to struggle a lot to complete five years of distress and pressure," Mushtaq says, as he shares his experience back home. "What else could we do?"
It was in the year 2000 that a scheme named Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was launched with the mission to ensure '100 percent literacy' till the decade ending 2010.
On one side while it aimed at 100 percent literacy, the Government engaged quite a large number of qualified youth in the education sector. Rehbar-I-Taleem scheme involves youth at local levels and associates them with schools up to middle level in their vicinities. The minimum qualification set for this scheme is 10+2 qualified. The salary given to (ReTs) is divided between Centre and State Governments on the basis of 75:25 ratio respectively.
Jammu and Kashmir has its own Services Selection Board that recruits government sector employees including employees of education department. But, according to Musthaq and others, the ReTs are directly engaged by Chief Education Officers (CEOs) of the districts concerned. The CEOs have been empowered by the government, indirectly through SSA directorate, to make such appointments.
Once selected to "give literacy a boost", a ReT has to earn this meager sum of Rs 1500 a month for five years. When the ReTs passes through, what they call the phase of psychological distress, they get a permanent job, parallel to others who get selected through the Services Selection Board.
Mushtaq, after completing his graduation in Science from Government Degree College Bemina completed his B.Ed, before engaged as a Rehbar-e-Taleem in his native place Bandipora. Qualification and luck on his side, he got adjusted in a school in his locality.
He joined the education department in 2008. For delivering eight classes a day, he would get mere Rs 1500 a month. Meanwhile, he completed his Post Graduation through distance mode from University of Kashmir.
"What would you do with this paltry sum?" I asked him. "What shall I do, Rs 1500 gets absorbed in one's cell phone bill a month," he replied, humbly. "There was one thing in my mind and that is the fact that this job is 'safe' and would yield me permanent appointment five years later; otherwise who would give his sweat and blood for Rs 1500? This is exploitation."
Mushtaq has a father, mother and sister to support. At their modest house, which is undergoing repairs, Mushtaq has a shop which he runs after the school hours. "I work hard to get the maximum from my paddy fields to support my family for the entire year. I don't have any other source of income, except this little shop," he says, as he points to it.
"Rs 1500 makes a pocket money of today's middle school student," Mushtaq says, referring to the "exploitation" that ReTs undergo. "I many a times sought money from my father and at times from my sister to meet my expenditures. Thank God I have my father's agricultural land that supports us for the whole year; otherwise it was difficult to survive."
Socially, the ReTs, according to Mushtaq face a tough time, especially in finding a match for them. "These are the genuine issues which no one is looking into?" he says. "There are social pulls and pressures that you have to withstand. And on top of everything, we have to deliver 8 classes for Rs 1500 a month. Someone has to put an end to this exploitation and ensure a better living for the ReTs."
Mushtaq says "we share a good relation with general line teachers. In schools, teachers don't make the students feel difference between ReT and general one. But work load is heavy. We have 6-8 classes a day."
The ReTs have some common concerns which they want the Government to address. "The Government is not considering our five year service on service books, which implies that five years of hard work goes waste. We also want enhancement in our salaries," said Mushtaq, as he is joined by a few more ReT colleagues at home. "The ReTs are formally given a Govt employee tag only when they pass this five year course. We want the government to redress all these crucial issues."
At present, according to them, the first batch of ReTs is awaiting promotion orders. While Mushtaq gets this 'Govt employee' tag this month, he is planning to find a match now. "Yes that is in the pipeline," he says, laughingly.