Priyambada Ojha, an assistant teacher at the BLP Balika Intercollege in Shivrampur village attended a training session as a polling officer on 17 April 2021. Shivrampur is in the Dubhar block of Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia district which was scheduled to have its panchayat election on 26 April. Ojha never made it to election duty because she was severely ill on election day and died the next day.
Ojha’s son Shivendu Shekhar Ojha said she developed a cough, a cold and fever three or four days after her training for election duty. He showed me documents from the Ballia District Hospital where she was treated before her death that showed her oxygen saturations level had dropped to 68 percent. Shivendu said that his mother must have been infected during the training session.
Local body elections were held in four phases across Uttar Pradesh between April 15 and April 29. The elections were conducted simultaneously for gram panchayats or village councils, for panchayat samitis at the block level and for zila parishads at the district level, across 58,194 gram panchayats that included 97,941 villages. Teachers and non-teaching school staff across the state were pressed into polling duty during the most deadly phase yet of the COVID-19 epidemic in India. More than 1,600 staff members from primary schools have died in a few short weeks according to an estimates by a teachers’ union. Many more deaths have been registered among secondary school staff and state employees.