Jaunpur/Ballia: Kalyani Agrahari, 27, an assistant teacher in the first month of her job, did not want to do the panchayat election duty on 15 April. She was eight months pregnant and it would not have been easy for her to sit at one place for so long.
On 9 April, accompanied by her husband, Kalyani travelled 30 kilometres from Pataila gram panchayat to Jaunpur Vikas Bhavan to submit an application saying she would not be able to report on election duty.
“I am a primary school teacher posted at Moina Composite School in Khutahan block. I am assigned at the Panchyat Polls and my code number is 24146. Due to my critical pregnancy, I will not be able to come on duty. Therefore, it is my humble request to the district election officer to relieve me from my duty,” her application, accessed by ThePrint, read.
The trip, however, proved to be futile. She was allegedly told that she would face an FIR, and also lose salary, if she did not report to duty.
Fifteen days later, the teacher died in a Jaunpur hospital. Her death certificate said she was Covid-positive, according to her family.
Kalyani is one of the “135 teachers” who have died so far after having been deployed on poll duty in Uttar Pradesh, according to the Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh, an association of teachers affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).
While there is no official record on this, the family members of the teachers ThePrint spoke to said they all had Covid or showed symptoms of the infection.
Thursday was the last day of the four-phase panchayat elections, the results of which will be announced on 2 May.
Taking cognisance of these deaths, the Allahabad High Court issued a show-cause notice to the Uttar Pradesh State Commission on 27 April, asking why action should not be taken against it and officials for not enforcing Covid protocols.
However, the Yogi Adityanath government has said in a statement that it did not want to hold the panchayat elections but it was an Allahabad High Court order that forced it to conduct it before 30 April.
Reached for a comment, Nitish Singh, SDM Sadar, Jaunpur, told ThePrint: “If someone is unwell, the person has to write to our medical committee. To relieve that person on medical grounds is a decision taken by that committee. This incident (of Agrahari) is unfortunate, I will see if I can help the family in any way.”
ThePrint also reached Education Minister Satish Chandra Dwivedi through phone calls and text messages for a comment but there was no response till the publication of this report.
The Rashtriya Shaikishik Mahasangh has, meanwhile, decided to boycott the counting duty on 2 May.
The UP Pradeshiya Prathamik Shiksha Sangh also said teachers want to boycott the counting duty. In a statement issued Thursday, the association released a list of 706 teachers who it claimed have died of Covid so far since the beginning of the pandemic. The statement addressed to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and the state election commissioner also requested that the counting be put on hold for now.
Making a similar demand, the UP Shikshak Mahasangh is learnt to have released a list of “577 teachers and support staff” who died after having been deployed on panchayat poll duty.
‘She was pregnant, they could have sent me instead’
Kalyani was one of the 69,000 assistant teachers who were recruited in January 2021. This was her first posting, and she died even before she could get her first salary.
The job was long awaited as the matter of their appointment had been in court.
“She was having anxieties that she would not be able to sit for a long time on poll duty. I accompanied her to the Vikas Bhavan but we were told that an FIR would be registered if she refused to come on duty. We both came home disheartened. Unhone kaha nayi naukri hai, salary nahin milegi (they said it’s a new job, you won’t get salary),” Deepak, Kalyani’s husband, told ThePrint.
“She was forced to travel 32 kilometres to reach the polling station on 15 April. She spent more than 12 hours on the field. She had been feeling unwell since she came back home. After two days of fever, her condition started worsening,” Deepak added.
Kalyani also had to go to the polling station on 14 April, a day before the polls, for a training, said her husband.
The 27-year-old died on 24 April at a mahila chikitsaalay (women’s hospital), two days before their third wedding anniversary, which was on 26 April.
Agrahari’s death certificate issued by the hospital said she was Covid positive and died of cardiopulmonary arrest during treatment.
Deepak showed the last photos of his wife, lying in a semi-conscious state with oxygen support.
“She kept saying, ‘save me please’. Maine doctors ke pair pakde, gid-gidaye, par wo nahin rahi (I pleaded with the doctors to save her, but she didn’t survive). Around 11.30 am, the doctor finally came and told us that she is no more. The officials killed her. They all should be booked for criminal negligence,” Deepak said in a choked voice, adding how difficult it is for him now to come to terms with the loss of his unborn child and wife.
A few kilometres away from Deepak’s home lives Kalyani’s family — also angry, devastated and feeling “cheated”. Her 52-year-old father Suresh Kumar broke down as he spoke to ThePrint over the phone: “When they knew that she is eight-month pregnant, they could have sent me to poll duty instead of her.”
“Maine usey itna padhaya likhaya ki kuch banegi, lekin system se kya mila? Ek maut. Meri beti ki jaan panchayat vibhag ke adhikariyon ki vajah se gayi (I sent her to school and college so she could do well in life. But this system only gave us death. My daughter died because of the officials at panchayats department),” he said.
Recalling the days since Kalyani returned from her poll duty on 15 April, the family said she had fever and they decided to take her to hospital on 18 April after her temperature did not come down after two days.
“We approached the Akbarpur district hospital first, but were turned away. We then went to Isha hospital in Jaunpur, JP Dubey hospital in Shahganj, Kumar Hospital in Jalalpur, Ambedkarnagar, Mayo Hospital in Jalalpur, Sunita Hospital in Jaunpur, Trauma Center in Jaunpur and Sadar Hospital in Jaunpur one by one, but there was no bed anywhere. We ran from pillar to post for three days. Precious time was lost… After her oxygen level dropped to 40, we went for a Covid test and also arranged an oxygen cylinder,” said the father.
‘Aana toh padega, nahin toh FIR’
Ballia district, around 170 km from Jaunpur, also witnessed similar deaths. The district went to polls in the third phase on 26 April.
According to the district teachers’ association, over 10 teachers have died “mysterious deaths”.
Nirbhay Singh, a member of the association, told ThePrint: “Many had symptoms so they went to block officials to get their duties cancelled but they were threatened with FIRs and voluntary retirement.”
Sapna Gupta, 56, who had taught science as a Basic Shiksha Adhikari for years, was to retire in a few years.
“She went to her allotted polling station on 15 April for training. After returning, she started developing cough, nausea, and other symptoms. She went to the district officials along with other teachers with a request to have herself removed from poll duty but was told that she would be forced to take voluntary retirement. Her last days were in extreme pain as her health started deteriorating,” said her daughter Swati Gupta.
Sapna’s CT scan report showed signs of Covid-19, she said.
“The doctor said she is Covid positive. I got her admitted to Basantpur L2 Covid centre where she was kept for three days. I took her to a Mau hospital for further treatment as her health deteriorated, but she died there within hours,” Swati told ThePrint.
Sapna died a day before she was to do her poll duty. “If she had not gone that day for her training at the polling station, she would not get infected with the virus,” said the daughter.
Santosh Mourya, Pradesh Sanyukt Mahamantri of the Rashtriya Saikishik Mahasangh, told ThePrint: “We protested in Lakhimpur district. 2,000 teachers have decided to boycott counting duty on 2 May. 33 teachers have died in our own district.”
He added: “Their families are also infected. No help is provided to the families. No bed is being given to the ailing teachers.”
As of 28 April, UP had 3,00,082 active Covid cases, and the state has recorded 11,943 deaths since the pandemic struck. According to official figures, the state has reported 266 Covid deaths in the last 24 hours.
(Edited by Sanghamitra Mazumdar)