Subject: When a Boss rates subordinate teachers and staff as ‘Zero’
I hope the contents of this open letter will find you in the best of spirits. I invite your kind attention and earnestly plead for your precious time. To begin on the note of festivity (Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav), let me extend you the congratulations of the 75th anniversary of the country’s independence – a moment of pride and celebration for the countrymen who, under the flourishing tree of democracy, were promised a dignified, hassle-free, harassment-free life that they could live to the best of their potential. I am a government employee, or better to call it a government servant. Like other government servants, I ask myself: ought I to write or say anything that might offend my boss? If the law has a provision for it? What if it backfires?
Like me, there are hundreds of such countrymen who have similar fears. Unfounded fears or genuine fears, one can’t say with certainty. The fear not to cross a limit, not breach protocol, not violate a CSR rule they respect and pledge to uphold. I think that after seventy-five years under the democratic sun, I must have that much energy, faith, and courage to overcome such fears.
Seventy-five years is really a lot of time for a system to evolve. India, of course, has evolved as a welfare model of democracy. In this capacity, I have space as ‘a citizen of free India’. I have a right against the violation of my rights. There must be a feeling that one can explore this right freely and without any fear. So, I decided to break the ice and spill the beans.
In the welfare democratic government, public interest matters. Public opinion is respected. Whatever the government of the day brings out, it must be in the larger public interest. Probably with this wisdom and philosophy, your government issued an order of evaluating the employees through the Monthly Progress Monitoring Report (EPM). Every month the employee has to submit his/her report card or performance to be reviewed by the immediate officer or DDO, popularly known as the Boss. Irrespective of what the servant does, it has to pass through the judgment and evaluation of this Boss.
As a teacher, most of the entries in the EPM have no relevance to me. The irony is that my Boss has to evaluate me without any checks and balances. He will do it with all impartiality and professional honesty, this is a presumption. But what if he deviates from the norm? What if he doesn’t like or is dissatisfied with his employee?
My Boss was under the belief that his subordinates would never come to know about their scores. But when the cat was out of the bag, the Boss was caught at sixes and sevens when his diligent faculty humbly approached his office with a lot of queries about the scores. Most of them had been underrated despite the plethora of activities besides their routine classwork. One of them burst into tears. He had been failed. There was a red line against his performance despite his having managed two national-level seminars during the month, besides other assignments. Every day in the newspapers, there’s news about the activity of the college. The Boss keeps clipping the cuttings and enriches his personal photo gallery. How could such a wonderful faculty be underrated who each day manage a show for him?
But mine was a bigger predicament. There was a bigger question. The Boss had to face my quizzical eyes. He had rated me a zero, a non-performer, a zilch, a non-existing entity. I had taken the highest number of classes, yet all I could manage was a Zero. I had attended my duties with utmost regularity and punctuality, yet a Zero. I had completed a Refresher Course in the same month, yet a Zero. The Boss says he doesn’t agree with the performance record. I am regular, he doesn’t agree. I was a Superintendent of an examination centre and the examination was conducted in the same month, he doesn’t agree. I have completed a refresher course from Kashmir University, he doesn’t agree. That I exist, probably he doesn’t agree. Could it be because I don’t agree with him on many issues?
There is another fellow with a Zero against his name. A man who has 30 years of service and three months to retire. An elderly person, humble and a thorough professional gentleman, guarding and keeping the door of my Boss, waiting upon the pleasure of his orders, serving him tea and water, a peaceful man, past the age of argument, past dissent, past his ego. His eyes are like mini pools as tears trickle and wash down his sunken cheeks. He puts out his hand, and an oval-shaped Zero is given to him. His voice is flurried as he whispers: “a Zero”. Why did he fail? Where did he fail? What was his fault? He doesn’t know. No one knows. His astonishment is greater than mine, his shock bigger. He, too, has a question, a bigger question. Probably, he will never ask it. His career is already at the fag end. This Zero will certainly hurt him, though. After keeping the door for thirty years, he managed a Zero.
Dear Sir, I’m sorry I have stolen your precious time. A current of emotions probably has taken over me. But emotions have no space here. Emotions have not even worked for my Boss despite his efforts. He, too, fails. Every day he aims for a slot in a newspaper. He thinks his work goes unacknowledged. He thinks he is discredited, so he should discredit everyone. His mood dictates everything. The service tenure doesn’t matter. It is the mood. Because I failed to keep my Boss in good humour, I failed as did his poor doorkeeper.
My Boss needs to be credited, to be acknowledged. Only then he would acknowledge us. This is his complaint. I, like my colleagues, need peace, a calm place, where work is a virtue. I wish for myself a condition of anonymity, where no one knows me, labels me, defines me, but only my sincerity towards my students. They are thirsty and hungry for knowledge. They search for a classroom which they have badly missed during the pandemic. They are bruised like me. We both have a similar search. A bit of a time we deserve together. I must stop here and think about them. They need me in a better mental condition. With the best wishes to your gracious self, I bid you adieu and leave this matter to your better judgment and evaluation.
Naseer Ahmad Khan
A teacher in Higher Education Department