Bandipora: Zakir Hussain Khan Gujjar, 39, has drawn the meagre sum of Rs 25 per month for 27 years now from the education department in Bandipora district. Prior to that, his father, Noor Din Khan, who died in 1990 at the age of 80, would get Rs15 per month as a casual paid worker (CPW) associated with the department in which room was made for Zakir soon after his father died. Zakir has five children, among whom one lives with disabilities, his wife and aged mother to take care of. Despite the fact that he is unable to meet the expenses of his school-going children, Zakir has donated one kanal of land to the Education Department upon which the Government Sirander Middle School is now operational.
Ties with the school have been life-long for Zakir because it worked ever since 1958 out of a house it rented from his father. Zakir says he would have been a child when he started looking after the school “as my father got older”. Noor, like his son, was equally exploited by the education department, Zakir says, adding, “As far as I remember, my father would get Rs 15 a month.” Zakir started at Rs 25 when he began to work in place of his father’. The sum continued unchanged for 24 years, from 1990 to 2014. “In 2015, the new headmaster, Tahir Ahmad Khan, doubled my salary to Rs 50 per month.” Today, he cannot get by without supplementing his income from other sources. “I occasionally find odd jobs as a labourer besides sweeping and taking care of the school to meet my expenses.”
The salary which Zakir gets is drawn from the school’s local fund which is managed by the school headmaster. “The department does not pay them, we have to manage it from local funds, and at times even we fall short,” said the headmaster of the Sirander Middle School.The shortage of funds often means delays in Zakir’s monthly salary.
After 2001, the education department would pay a rent of Rs 1,000 which, till 2006, helped Zakir to meet his expenses. But he was ‘lured’ to donate a kanal of land to the department of education for the construction of the school building. “After I donated the land to the department, the rent stopped as the school got constructed and shifted from my house to the new building,” Zakir said.
While donating the land, Zakir had thought his children would get educated at the school and that the department might consider making him a permanent fourth class employee, as many had promised him. His children were accommodated at the school, but prospects of the the promised job only faded away. “I thought the department would find a permanent place for me, but nothing happened. My file has been gathering dust since 2009, though my children are studying here, which is good as I want to see them educated.”
Of Zakir’s five children, two are boys and three girls. The eldest son, Adil Hussain, is studying in 12th standard at a Srinagar school. “He is smart and always gets good grades, but he couldn’t take the subjects of his choice due to money constraints – my pocket couldn’t bear the expenses of the medical profession,” Zakir said. “Furthermore, his room rent, fee and travel expenses are also now creating a burden on me, despite his taking Arts as a subject.”
Zakir’s other children, apart from Shaista, age 2, are studying in the same school where he works. Shaista is mute and has severe eye defects. “Doctors at the hospital tell me to conduct CT scans of her head and other tests in Srinagar, but it’s not possible as of now, given our financial condition,” Zareena, Zakir’s wife, said while preparing the family’s meal on a makeshift mud-hearth (daan) inside the kitchen of her house.
Zakir, despite the noble contribution he made by donating land to the 69-year-old school, has met the same fate as this school which the education department has apparently forgotten to upgrade for the last nine years. He still lives in the hope that he would be paid well in the near future. “I still have some hope if the government only awakens itself,” Zakir said.
Kashmir Reader spoke to the deputy commissioner, Bandipora, Sajad Ganae, who said that it was an individual matter, and he would talk to the chief education officer, Bandipora, who would be better informed about Zakir, so that his issue was known and redressed immediately. However, the chief education officer, Bandipora, wasn’t available for comments despite several attempts by phone.