01.05.2014 - 18.05.2014
I have had several informal discussions with the principal and today he invited me to his house for tea. He lives on the other side of town, the Hindu side, if you will, although he is Buddhist. He showed me all the reports he has to make to the district school authorities along with the grades he has to submit. This week, all of the kids will have at least two hours a day of testing so that he can submit the scores to these same authorities. He said things are different in Zanskar and Ladakh, where the district education officers do not require the same testing or insist on the same books. Apparently the reason is that Buddhists are in the majority there, and because the administrators are also Buddhist, they better understand the needs of the community. Here they are all Hindu or Muslim, and he feels this is the reason why they insist on following the government rules so closely. Not only that, even though the Himalayan Culture School is almost entirely funded by government money, the teachers receive a fraction of the pay that regular teachers receive, 3000 rupees per month, roughly $50 US, as compared to 20-30,000 ($350- 500US). The reason is that teachers in the Himalayan School receive what is called an honorarium instead of a government salary, because the school is run by a private foundation, like a charter school. It seems very unfair.
The principal said he has been with the school since it began 18 years ago, and that he makes a fraction of what he could be making in a public Indian school. It is enough, he said, but barely, to make ends meet. I think he wanted me to understand the difficulties of his job and the sacrifices he has made to stay in it.
Principal, Norbu, and Yours Truly at the school picnic
On another day I had tea with Norbu, a young history teacher in his 30’s with a very gentle manner. He said he has been at the school for more than 10 years. He comes from one of the smaller and more remote villages, although most of his family now live in Jammu, where his parents run a clothing shop, and his brother is finishing his last year of engineering school. He is desperate to get a regular government teaching job because of the difference in salary. He has taken the national exam and will go to Kisthwar for an interview following the election in a few weeks.
I had tea at his house a second time, along with another teacher. We discussed the American political system, which they seemed quite interested in, as compared to the Indian parliamentary system. We then got talking about the school, and both indicated that none of the teachers had been paid even their meager salary for more than a month. This is not the first time this has happened. Last year they went 8 months before receiving their paycheck from Delhi. Other government teachers receive their salary from the J&K government and so there is usually less of a delay.
What a system.
I happened to mention my problem finding bottled water, and later that evening Norbu, after checking with a dozen or more shops, managed to find some. I had to insist that he take money to pay for them. So for now at least, my water problem is solved.