On 13th December 2018, teachers, non-teaching staff and parents of students of special schools in Kerala staged a protest march towards the state assembly in Thiruvananthapuram. The protest began after the failure of various discussions with the state government to meet the demands of the employees and students of the special schools.
Many senior political leaders participated in the march. Many activists and students from different universities in India had come in solidarity with the protest on social media. The special schools which provide educational and vocational training to children with physical and mental disabilities have been long ignored by the different elect governments in Kerala.
There are 288 special schools in the state of Kerala with around 6000 employees working in these schools. The demands of the employees include: a comprehensive package for these schools, aided status, welfare and pension schemes for the staff. They have decided to go on an indefinite protest till their demands are met.
According to the staff of these schools, the working conditions of these schools are pathetic, and each elected government have been indifferent towards these schools. There is a huge difference in the pay scale of these employees receive as compared to the staff of the same grade working in the IED (Inclusive Education for the Disabled) Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan(SSA, education for all) and the BUDS schools for the mentally challenged.
”On an average the current government spends around rupees 6500 per school annually to academically aid the students when the yearly expense is merely around rupees 1,25,000.”
The teaching staff of special schools receive a meagre salary between 4500 and 6500 per month as compared to the teachers of IED and BUDS who receive a salary of rupees 28,500 and 30,650 respectively. The non-teaching staff of the special schools get a salary between 2500 to 3500 rupees per month. The amount the government spends on a child with autism or cerebral palsy is merely 6500 as compared to the 1,25,000 which is spent on a student who is visually challenged or hearing disability.
“On an average the current government spends around rupees 6500 per school annually to academically aid the students when the yearly expense is merely around rupees 1,25,000”, says Ashiq Katikulam one of the organisers of the protest, The LDF government had announced a sum of 400 crores for the development of these schools last November however these promises have remained in papers until now.
The Constitution of India promises equality of opportunities to all citizens of India, healthy or disabled and right to education is available to all. Also, various laws are passed to ensure the protection of people with disabilities. The Persons of Disabilities Act, 1995 states that – education and rehabilitation must be given to disabled people, discrimination must be avoided and promises a three percent reservation for people with disabilities in government jobs and the Rights of Persons with Disabil-ities Act (RPWD), 2016 which replaced the 1995 Act increased the types of disabilities from seven to twenty one and also included private sector under its purview.
According to the staff of these schools, the working conditions of these schools are pathetic, and each elected government have been indifferent towards these schools.
However, most of the state governments don’t allocate infrastructure or required resources to the needs of the disabled people, promises remain in election manifestos and the private sector rarely comply with the reservations. Education of disabled children in India is still behind because of lack of trained staff and proper infrastructure.
Kerala which is one of the most literate states in India with an estimate of 96% has been long known for its commitment to education. The Public Affairs Index (PAI) released by the Public Affair Centre (PAC) had pronounced Kerala as the best governed state in India in 2018. The state has been ranked one of the best in social and economic development as well. The mainstream media and social media are filled with Kerala Number One hashtags.
This indifferent attitude of the government to the education of disabled children and the people who work for them shows the idea of development is not inclusive.
Ironically, the Kerala government had also decided to provide four percent job reservation to disabled persons in government-aided educational institutions. However, this indifferent attitude of the government to the education of disabled children and the people who work for them shows the idea of development is not inclusive of the quality education and training of children with disabilities. How can we ensure jobs for people with disabilities without providing education and training for these children?
“There should be an equitable allocation of resources to make the education sector inclusive and accessible to all. It is ironic that while Sitaram Yechury, a senior CPM leader has been vocal about the RPD Bill in the parliament, the left government in Kerala has been refusing to perceive employees in special need schools at par with their counterparts in other government sector services. The ridiculously low salary paid to the staff here, refusal to include them under government pension schemes, and the sparse expenditure on these schools reveal the condescending and dismissive attitude of Kerala government towards children with disability”, says Solanki Chakraborty, research scholar from Hyderabad who came in solidarity with the protest.
Most of the mainstream media in Kerala which have been covering various protests across Kerala especially the Sabarimala protests since the Supreme Court verdict in September 2018 have been unconcerned to this protest by the special school employees which again points to the way how issues of disabled persons are side lined and ignored. Why there is a collective denial towards the needs of disabled people? How long will the governments and media be ignorant to the demands of these teachers and parents who wants to give quality education to the disabled children?
Photography credits: Ashiq