While a horrific second wave of COVID-19 had already started battering the country in April, the densely populated state of Uttar Pradesh was busy holding panchayat polls.
Not only were they holding them, visuals emerging from the state suggested a terrifying disregard for COVID-19 protocols while the polls were underway. Disturbing reports of COVID-deaths among government-school teachers posted on election duty also emerged from various districts.
However, now the UP government has come forward to state that only three teachers died due to COVID during the polls.
The state government minister Satish Dwivedi is reported to have said that three teachers died in election duty. Other teachers who died, had fallen victim to COVID-19 like others.
This claim by the UP government is entirely contradictory to the claims by teachers’ organisations like the UP Prathmik Shikshak Sangh and the Rashtriya Shikshak Mahasangh, which say that hundreds of teachers and employees died during the panchayat poll process.
As per the UP Prathamik Shikshak Sangh, 1,621 teachers died due to COVID-19 infection during election duty. The figure put forward by the Rashtriya Shikshak Mahasangh is close to 1,400.
Even the list prepared by some basic education officers in different districts of the state is many times the figures put forward by the government.
What Teachers’ Associations Are Saying
Dubbing this data and government reaction as “inhuman,” teachers’ organisations are saying that if the deaths have not taken places, those considered deceased should be brought out alive in public.
Dr Dinesh Chand Sharma, president of UP Prathmik Shikshak Sangh, says that there can be two types of death because of COVID.
“First is of someone who may have been infected before 10 April, and who died during duty. However, if someone was infected before 10 April, he would have been placed in isolation and not on duty. The second is of someone who may have gotten infected on duty, and died after it. But that the government will not accept. So, why count the second as a COVID death at all?”Dr Dinesh Chand Sharma
Meanwhile, State Join Minister of the Rashtriya Shikshak Mahasangh, Shashank Kumar Pandey, says that the government is talking about the deaths counted on election day alone. “However, COVID deaths do not occur in just one day. Deaths occur after the infection.”
“In order to disprove the death of a large number of teachers, the state government is spreading confusion by giving the figure of death on the day of the election. The state government is responsible for that fact that the elections were conducted in the midst of the pandemic, despite opposition. The government, which itself implemented the Epidemic Act in the state, conducted the polls.”Shashank Kumar Pandey
Shashank Kumar Pandey also says that keeping aside teachers, the government does not even want to follow the figures put out by the basic education officials. If the data of even three-four districts, shared by the officials, is put together, then also the tally will go past 100. But the government does not want to believe the data provided by basic education officials as well.
State Department’s Condition
According to the statement issued by the Education Department, as per the guidelines of the State Election Commission – for polling/counting related training and polling/counting related work – election duty is timed between the employee’s arrival at the place of duty and after the completion of duty, arrival back at the place of residence .
During this period, if a teacher dies due to any reason, the family is eligible for a grant.
The Education Department has said that keeping these guidelines in mind, the state election department noted the death of only three teachers.
Both organisations are now saying that this movement will continue till the state government gives justice to the employees. Dr Dinesh Chandra Sharma says that they will fight the entire battle to get the rights of their people and will fight till the end.
Pandey says that if the government does not agree then they will take the matter to the court. The organisation will also adopt the strategy of agitation against the government. In the middle of the pandemic, he says, they will be forced to agitate.
Quint Hindi spoke to many families in UP’s districts that have lost their loved ones. Shashank of UP’s Shravasti lost his pregnant wife and he blames the election duty for it. Meanwhile, Indravati Devi of Gonda, whose husband too passed away, says: “Election duty swallowed him.”
(This piece was originally published in Quint Hindi and has been translated for republication. Read the original story here.)