Even though it is a private institution, Arya Balika Vidyalaya receives funding from the government. The school, therefore, is obliged to adhere to government regulations. One dictates that all the reserved posts in the school must be filled through the appointment of reserved category candidates. Regardless, for the last two years, the reserved post for a T.G.T. (Trained Graduate Teacher) for science has remained empty. The new semester is supposed to begin in April. The school principal and the management committee have been interviewing S.C. (Scheduled Caste) applicants only to reject them, citing reasons of academic incompetence in their report: “Since it is a question of the students’ advancement, we cannot employ an underqualified teacher. Thus, we request permission to appoint a candidate from the general category.” The State education officers have chosen to remain mute on this issue; they neither deny nor grant this request. Perhaps they do not want to get embroiled in controversy.
The school has once again invited applications for teaching posts in the new semester. This time around, the Education Department has sent a Dalit education officer to serve on the interview committee. Twenty-two applicants are contending for the post of the science TGT.
The committee interviewed each of them by turn. Mr. Paswan of the interview committee was especially impressed by the fifteenth candidate, Miss Geeta. Geeta recited her academic achievements: she held an M.Sc. (Masters of Science) degree (First Class) from the University of Delhi and an M.Ed. (Masters in Education) from Jamia Milia Islamia. In light of these achievements and if she so desired, she could very well have chosen another career and earned thousands of rupees, but her passion for serving the society through education had inspired her to become a teacher.
As her interview drew to a close, Mr. Paswan asked her, “Miss Geeta, I would like to know if you think education has empowered Dalit society.”
Geeta replied, “Yes, I believe that education is the road to empowerment. Without education, human beings are no better than animals. Education is linked to social position and social position is linked to power in an astounding manner.”
She answered all interview questions with similar confidence. After her interview ended, Mr. Paswan said to the principal, “In my opinion, Geeta is very well qualified for this position. I think she is the ideal contender for this post.” The interview committee thought it only fit to accept his suggestion—Mr. Paswan, after all, was from the Education Department. They accepted Geeta for the post and sent her an appointment letter. All Geeta had to do now was to take care of some formalities—fill out some forms and provide her certificates. She took care of these tasks before the semester began.
It was Geeta’s first day at her new job. The first impression is most important, she thought. She decided to wear a beautiful Gujarati saree with dark metal bangles and a long black bindi on her forehead. Anyone would assume that she was from an educated and prosperous family. She entered school and greeted the principal with a namaste. The students were quite excited to hear that a new science teacher had finally joined the school. The teachers were curious about the new arrival as well. The principal introduced Geeta at the morning assembly while also declaring that she held an M.Sc. degree from the University of Delhi and an M.Ed. degree from Jamia Milia Islamia. “Geeta-ji has won several competitions at school and college levels. I am confident that she will prove herself to be a great teacher. I request that you give her your complete support.”
The principal then invited Geeta into her office and handed her the class schedule. She had a free period before her class began and decided to visit the staff room. A couple of teachers were already sitting there, engrossed in their work. Geeta began reading the high school science textbook that she was carrying with her, unaware that she had become a point of great discussion.
In line with the custom in most schools, the teachers at this school were divided into two groups: the quota group and the nonquota group. Mrs. Sagar led the quota group, while Tara Dholakia led the nonquota group. The new teacher had an attractive personality as well as an M.Sc. degree from Delhi University; no doubt she was a nonquota candidate. Mrs. Dholakia went around congratulating her friends, celebrating the new member who had joined their ranks. The teachers of the quota group were dejected at the further increase in the nonquota group. The first hour thus saw both celebration and mourning and the bell rang to announce the second period.
Miss Geeta gathered her things and entered Class 10. In the meanwhile, a few nonquota teachers, whose hearts were collectively soaring, immediately launched into a discussion.
“Do we have more information on Miss Geeta?”
“We should ask for her surname, that will tell us.”
“Arey bhai, she is an M.Sc. from Delhi University and a First Class at that. There’s no need to ask for her surname. She is definitely a nonquota candidate.”
“She walks and talks like she could be Punjabi, you know.”
“I love the way she smiles.”
“I’m certain she used political influence.”
“Oh forget it, this is none of our business. We are here to teach, not to meddle in the affairs of other people.”
Third period began. The staff room lay empty now. A few teachers from the quota group came together. Beset with sadness and distress, their conversation continued.
“Arey, just look at how elated Mrs. Dholakia is. I think this new teacher is from the general category. No wonder they are jumping with joy.”
“But this was a reserved seat. How did she manage to get it?”
“Several candidates applied for the post in the last two years but they did not pick anyone.”
“They just don’t want Dalits to move forward.”
“We are discriminated against despite being well qualified.”
Fourth period began. The reserved category teachers gathered up the sadness in their hearts and left for their classes. Miss Geeta had just stepped out of her classroom when she bumped into Mrs. Sagar. She immediately apologized in a very polite tone. In response, Mrs. Sagar introduced herself, “I’m Kamla Sagar, Hindi T.G.T.” Miss Geeta took Mrs. Sagar’s hand and squeezed it with a deep smile on her face, which left Mrs. Sagar thoroughly pleased. She realized that the new teacher was very pleasant. She was not even disturbed like most people are after hearing my surname, she thought to herself. She steadied her happily beating heart and went to class. She was experiencing a pleasurable sensation—could Miss Geeta be one of us? She wondered how she could find out for sure, because if Miss Geeta turned out to be a general candidate, it would be a matter of much ridicule for Mrs. Sagar.
Lunch break started after fourth period ended. The school began to echo with the students’ din. The staff room was ringing with the teachers’ voices. Miss Geeta tried to sit next to Mrs. Sagar, but Mrs. Dholakia invited her to take the seat next to her. Geeta couldn’t refuse. Naturally excited, the women showered Geeta with questions. “Where are you staying?” “Do you own a house or do you rent one?” “Do you like the school?” “How many siblings do you have?” “What does your father do?” etc. Geeta slowly made her way through each question. She told them she had a brother and a sister and that she was the youngest. Her father was a high-ranking official in the government. They owned a house. The nonquota teachers were thrilled to hear that, exactly as they had thought, Geeta was from a prosperous and well-educated family. Mrs. Tara Dholakia was eager to know Geeta’s surname, but she was interrupted by the bell announcing the end of the lunch break. They all spotted the principal outside the staff room and quickly left for their classes.
Fifth period began. Nobody had yet managed to determine if Geeta was a quota or a nonquota candidate. Both sides were wondering how they could figure this out. Asking her directly would be an uncouth move. And Geeta replied to indirect questions with roundabout answers. A few minutes into fifth period, Geeta and Mrs. Sagar ran into each other again. Geeta again extended a smile toward Mrs. Sagar, as if trying to tell her something. Mrs. Sagar did not catch on. She was telling Geeta about her family. Mrs. Dholakia saw Geeta and Mrs. Sagar chatting affectionately and was seized with a sudden suspicion. “Is she a quota candidate?” she thought to herself, “If not, why is she engaged in such an animated conversation with Mrs. Sagar despite knowing her surname?” The next instant she thought that maybe Mrs. Sagar had not revealed her surname. “Yes, that must be it,” she told herself, satisfied.
Geeta, however, could not contain herself any longer. She finally told Mrs. Sagar that they had the same surname. And that she was a staunch Ambedkarite Buddhist at that. Mrs Sagar burst into jubilant laughter as soon as she heard this. She felt like she had conquered a fort. She squeezed Geeta’s hand in excitement and was giddy with happiness. She could not wait to tell her group that Geeta was their very own.
As soon as sixth period began, Mrs. Sagar and her friends began speaking in excited whispers. They gave each other the news about Geeta while singing her praises.
“She is so clever and beautiful.”
“You see, even in our community there are people whom you cannot label Dalit at first glance.”
“We should be grateful to Babasaheb, thanks to whom we are here today. If not for him, we would still have been lying at the bottom of the well.”
“We should warn Geeta. She must remain wary of these people.” All the teachers from the quota group began introducing themselves to Geeta.
Seventh period began and the nonquota teachers found themselves in great distress. Tara Dholakia said to the rest, “Arey, this one turned out to be Mayawati!”
“Yet another quota candidate!”
“It’s amazing . . . you really can’t tell by looking at her.”
“They’re everywhere, these quota candidates.”
“What is the future of this nation now?”
Seventh period was ending but there was no end to this discussion. There was a rush of activity in the staff room as soon as the period came to a close. The teachers began to pack up, as it was time to go home. Mrs. Sagar was packing her bag when she heard Mrs. Dholakia declaring, “I have already instructed my son to look into the girl’s surname before he decides to get married. You can’t really tell anymore by just looking at a person, you know.” Mrs. Sagar was filled with rage at these words. She cried out, “When will you stop cursing the quota teachers? There are fifty of you in this school and only five of us!”
Geeta, who had finished teaching by now, entered the staff room. It took her no time to realize that she was the cause of the argument that was underway. She had been scrutinizing all the teachers since morning. She could see that a day that had started well had become increasingly tense after the news of her being a quota candidate came to light. She had made the decision to teach in a school after refusing several other jobs only because she thought that caste would not be a bone of contention here. She had hoped to educate her students about caste discrimination. She had grown up hearing about how teachers had the power to craft the nation’s destiny. But this place made her feel like teachers were only crafting caste. All these jibes made her blood boil. She raised her voice. “What is the meaning of this incessant talk about caste? And you call yourselves teachers? Dronacharya lives on in every one of you!”
Geeta’s roaring words gave encouragement to the other teachers from the quota group, and their rage knew no bounds. Layers of built-up resentment began to come apart one by one.
“We are no less than anyone!”
“Do we make less than the others?”
“You add up to just three percent and still you rule over us. The days of this domination are long gone!”
“We work as hard as anyone else. Why don’t you try try it sometime?”
“You managed to cut off Eklavya’s thumb through deceit. Try deceiving us now!”
“Try being born in our place and accomplishing as much as we have!”
Further emboldened by this show of solidarity, Geeta challenged them, “You think we are underqualified? Want to compete with us? I dare you to meet me in competition. Let’s see who emerges the better candidate!” Her face was radiating confidence. The nonquota teachers were stunned into silence. Nobody had ever called them out like this before today. It seemed like Mrs. Dholakia suddenly came to her senses. A fearful realization began to dawn on her: the situation was escalating and the results could be terrible.
At that point, the last school bell rang.
© Anita Bharti. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2018 by Swarnim Khare. All rights reserved.