In the first week of January, a 32-year-old former school teacher was found dead in his home in the Kamal Kanta Para village in Tripura. The media reported that during his funeral, his wife tried to jump in his burning pyre in grief. She reportedly said that he had killed himself. Multiple news reports said that according to his wife, the 32-year-old was in debt and struggling financially since he found himself without a job on 31 March 2020. Along with him, thousands of government teachers were rendered jobless in Tripura that day. This was the result of a May 2014 judgment by the Tripura High Court that set aside the state government’s appointment of 10,323 teachers between 2010 and 2014. Teachers who lost their jobs told me about the impact unemployment has had on their lives and their campaign to be reinstated.
The May 2014 high court order said that the selection of the 10,323 teachers was “totally unfair” and not done in a transparent manner. The court directed the state government to frame a new employment policy within two months and carry out a fresh selection process by 31 December. Further, in the interest of school students, the court asked the teachers to continue at their posts till the selection process was complete.
The high court order was challenged in the Supreme Court. On 8 December that year, the Supreme Court stayed the order to terminate the teachers till the final disposal of the case. In March 2017, the apex court upheld the high court’s verdict and allowed the teachers to continue on their positions till the end of that year. In December 2017, the Supreme Court allowed the teachers to be employed till June 2018 on an ad hoc basis. But after a few months, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government filed a petition to the Supreme Court to extend their period of service further. In November that year, the Supreme Court gave a final extension to the teachers, till the end of the 2019–2020 academic session.
According to the state government, 1,441 teachers had managed to get other jobs by the end of this period. But 31 March 2020 marked the last working day of 8,882 teachers. According to Gautam Debbarma, an executive member of the Joint Movement Committee, most teachers had not looked for alternative jobs since the 2014 verdict. The JMC is an umbrella group of three large collectives that are demanding the reinstatement of the teachers—Justice for 10323, All Tripura Ad Hoc Teachers Association and Amra 10,323. Gautam said the teachers had hoped that the government would not terminate their jobs. “We thought the government was going to do something for us since it is a government job we are selected on government rules and procedures,” he said. “So, we thought we might not be terminated.”
Among the teachers who have lost their jobs is a 34-year-old woman based in Jampui Hills in the North Tripura district. The 34-year-old, who did not wish to be named, said she began teaching in the Sailut Senior Basic School in Jampui on an ad-hoc basis in 2010. Her employment was regularised five years later. “I was so happy when I got my letter of employment. Our whole family celebrated with a chicken feast,” she said. “But now, there is sadness in the house. Living without a salary is very hard if you have to feed a family.”
The 34-year-old said she is the sole earner of her family. “I have to feed my family—my husband, two children and my father-in-law,” she said. Her life had changed since she lost her job. “One day, I was earning Rs 29,000 and then the next day, I had no income.” The 34-year-old said that the family owned a farm, but it hardly helped make ends meet. “It is not enough to pay for my children fees,” she said. “What has happened to us is unbelievable. At least we have a space to grow some crops, but what about the rest of the people, what will they do?”
Like the 34-year-old woman, Hari Debbarma, a 32-year-old former teacher in Dhalai district, was also the sole earner of his family. Hari’s 27-year-old wife, Moharani Debbarma, told me that he died of a stroke in November 2020. Moharani said she believed that it was the stress of unemployment that had killed her husband as he was a healthy man.
Moharani told me that their family relied on Hari’s income to sustain themselves. “We have two children, one is ten and a half years old while the young one is six years old,” he said. “My father-in-law and my mother-in-law are very aged and cannot work. Now it is very difficult because there is no one to look after the children [financially].”
Gautam told me that on top of difficulties that come with unemployment, some teachers are also reeling under the pressure to pay back loans. He told me that the JMC has requested some banks to not ask the aggrieved teachers for repayments till they have found new employment. For instance, on 4 January 2021, the JMC wrote to Tripura Gramin Bank, a regional bank. It mentioned the case of the 32-year-old former teacher who died in the first week of January. “In times of our grief and tension, Recall notices are served unceasingly to 10323 teachers without understanding the root cause of our depression and anxiety,” the letter said.