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MP’s Damoh voted when Covid surged, and school teachers on poll duty paid a big price

Assembly bypoll was conducted in MP's Damoh on 17 April. Many teachers on poll duty died of Covid, or lost family members to the virus, after that.

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Damoh, Madhya Pradesh: Pankaj Jain, 33, a resident of Madhya Pradesh’s Damoh district, has spent the past few weeks battling guilt. The primary school teacher tested positive for Covid last month, a day after he returned from a training for school teachers, who had been chosen for poll duty for the assembly byelection held in the district on 17 April.

Jain’s 55-year-old mother, Mamata, and pregnant wife Priyanka too tested positive a few days later.

But while Jain exhibited only mild symptoms of the disease and recovered, his mother and wife both succumbed to Covid, within a few days of each other. With his wife was also gone Jain’s unborn child — his wife had been eight months pregnant at the time of her death, and was due to deliver this month.

“If it weren’t for my poll duty training, my mother and my wife would probably still be alive,” lamented Jain.

The training at Government Polytechnic College, Damoh, on 8 April had seen the congregation of several hundreds of those enlisted for election duty, making it a hot-bed of infections, said Jain.

He was excused from his poll day responsibilities after his mother passed away on 16 April, the night before the elections. He lost his wife on 24 April.

Shaken to his core, Jain said his mental and emotional well-being had taken a beating. But he has his ageing father and a three-year-old son to think of. “The house feels empty, and we feel very lonely,” he said.

Jain is the not the only one whose family has been torn apart by Covid following the poll duty training, or the elections. Many teachers on poll duty have succumbed to Covid, while others have lost family members. Those who have lost their loved ones, added that there was no way these teachers could have avoided the election duties assigned to them.

As Covid cases surged in the second pandemic wave in April, Madhya Pradesh on 8 April announced night curfews and Sunday lockdowns in urban areas of all districts, except in poll-bound Damoh.

In July last year, the Election Commission had announced that families of polling personnel who lost their lives to Covid while on election duty will be given an ex gratia compensation of Rs 30 lakh. But in Damoh, families of teachers on poll duty who died of Covid said no such compensation has reached them yet.

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‘Not received any compensation’

“Two hundred teachers contracted Covid during poll duty or training for poll duty, and 24 of them lost their lives,” Arif Anjum, president, Damoh Government Teachers’ Association (GTA), told ThePrint.

But despite the EC’s notice on compensations last year, none of the families of teachers who lost their lives in Damoh have yet been compensated, he said.

Abhishek Thakur, the EC in-charge for Damoh constituency, said the agency is still in the process of collecting documents needed for granting compensation.

“We have asked the teachers to submit their requisite documents, after which we will file those with the EC,” Thakur told ThePrint.

Saurabh Kori, with a photo of his father, Kishore, a government school teacher who died of Covid | Fatima Khan | ThePrint
Saurabh Kori, with a photo of his father, Kishore, a government school teacher who died of Covid | Nirmal Poddar | ThePrint

Hari Narayan Nema, the District Education Officer of Damoh, said they have identified only six teachers so far who have died after contracting Covid during poll duty.

“The preliminary figure that we have is six. We have asked them for their documents. Other teachers too, who may have died after getting Covid on poll duty, should submit their details for compensation purpose,” Nema told ThePrint.

In Uttar Pradesh too, many teachers allegedly died of Covid after being deployed on panchayat poll duty in April, with the state government recently telling the Allahabad High Court that it would provide a compensation of Rs 30 lakh to their family members, even as a union for the primary teachers has demanded that compensation amount should be Rs 1 crore.

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‘Have been left orphaned’

Meanwhile, those who have lost families, like Jain, are left shattered beyond words.

Shashi Rohit, 31, is the eldest of her parents’ five children. Her father Brijlal Aherwal, a government school teacher, returned from election duty on the evening of 17 April and started showing symptoms of Covid a few days later. Mother Pyari Bai too fell ill soon. Both subsequently tested positive for Covid and breathed their last on 5 May, within a few hours of each other.

“We have been left orphaned and are still in a state of utter shock,” Shashi told ThePrint.

Brijwal Aherwal, a government school teacher., and his wife Pyari Bai, have both succumbed to Covid | Nirmal Poddar | ThePrint
Brijlal Aherwal, a government school teacher, and his wife Pyari Bai, have both succumbed to Covid | Nirmal Poddar | ThePrint

What makes their suffering even more acute is the fact that many of them had feared contracting the disease while on duty, but as government school teachers had no way to refuse the responsibilities assigned to them.

Seventeen-year-old Saurabh’s father Kishore Kori died on 12 May, days after he tested positive for Covid, following election duties in April.

“My dad started panicking the day his name was announced for poll duty,” said Saurabh.

“But as a government school teacher, he had no option but to go or they would have fired him. He was the only earning member of the family, the head of the family. We are lost without him,” added the teenager.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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