On Teachers’ Day (Sep 5) memories of my school teachers stretch beyond what they were paid for. Without doubt, they were so committed to their task that any non-compliance of their instructions would make us realize that a horse was not the only animal valued for its ability to stand long hours. The best of the horses may be known to spend the better part of their life standing but so were the lucky few who were made to stand during the class, and the unlucky others who had to do the honours standing outside the classroom. Their fame was instant! Classrooms have long ceased to be such horsey affairs for students. The ordeal has instead spilled over into the public space, sales girls or for that matter sales boys rarely get a chance to sit across the counters in most upmarket stores. What’s more, there isn’t anything that these youngsters get to rest their butts on. The only silver lining being that they get paid for, to keep holding a smile for the customers with their flamed toes and aching calves.
Their daily ordeal is worse compared to what we had been through during school days, theirs’ lasts for no less than eight hours. They are grudgingly allowed a toilet break only twice a day. For going through such tortured engagement, these unskilled and relatively uneducated youth are paid a pittance. What they gain in the process is either/or a combination of back pain, joint pains, swollen feet, kidney-related ailments, and varicose veins. Not many seem to be complaining yet!
Unlike us, those of whom who complain are summarily shown the door. It is a trap from which there isn’t any easy escape. The retail revolution has left workers in the informal sector at the mercy of their employers, forcing the youth to contend with poor working conditions. As for the store owners, forcing counter girls and boys to stand before a customer is a mark of respect. Interestingly, what was a punishment at school is a symbol of consumer responsive behaviour today.
No one seems to be complaining but for the sales girls at the Kalyan Sarees in Thrissur, who were the first to claim their ‘right-to-sit’ by taking up the matter with the management which forced the Kerala government to issue orders to ensure seating facilities at all commercial establishments. While one would imagine that the sales staff had secured their right-to-sit, it is all but known that it may be easier to get government orders but equally difficult to get the same implemented on the ground.
Present-day teachers are no better than the counter staff, their right-to-sit is not reserved anymore. Most schools do not keep chairs for teachers in the classrooms because it is believed that sitting ducks do not deliver quality lessons. As I remember my teachers for doing what they did in the guise of making us better students, my heart goes out to the present lot whose worth is as much and perhaps only as long as they can stand and deliver.
(Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer on development issues based in New Delhi, India)