Chiranjeevi and his wife Padma set off early morning on their bike to their work site. Both were till recently teachers. Chiranjeevi holds a postgraduate degree and also a BEd degree that made him a social studies teacher 12 years ago. Padma holds an MBA degree and was working as a primary school teacher.
The couple has now turned manual labourers. For the last few days, they have been going to the MGNREGA work site near their village in Bhongir-Yadadri because for the last two months they have got no salary and there is no telling when it may come again amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"The 200-300 rupees we make will at least help us buy vegetables for the family," says Chiranjeevi. They are a family of six - two children and parents. With no salary, it is not possible to survive, says the couple.
The impact of the pandemic and the lockdown is being felt in every sector. An estimated two lakh teachers in about 10,000 recognised and 8,000 unrecognised educational institutions have not been paid for the last two-three months.
That is not unusual for private school teachers because even otherwise most people get paid only 10 months an year, says Krishna, a zoology teacher in a junior college. "But this time, just when the fees would have been collected from students, to who permission to sit in exams is linked to paying up dues, the lockdown happened and so we did not even get salary for March," he says.
"Primary school teachers in private schools used to get paid hardly 5,000-10,000 rupees. High school teachers get up to Rs 20,000 and junior college lecturers with experience and competence can get up to Rs 25,000. Now even that is gone," says Chiranjeevi. He is angry that Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao has made promises but never recruited school teachers after coming to power.
Apart from not getting paid, many teachers in private schools and colleges have been sacked. More and more of them are turning into manual labourers as schools are closed and there is no clarity on when they would reopen.
"For the last 12 years am working as a social science teacher. I lost my job due to the coronavirus lockdown, so am doing this labour work. Not just me, thousands of youth have lost their jobs. So request the government to give some support to unemployed people," says Chiranjeevi.
There are other highly qualified teacher-turned-labourers at the same worksite. Like double PhD teacher Ramesh and PT Sir Krishna. Manual labour and working under the sun are certainly not easy for those used to other less physically rigorous work.
Ramesh says his parents go to work as labourers. They feel bad that despite being highly educated, he is also doing the same work that they and others who are uneducated are doing. "My parents feel bad that after getting so educated, I am still doing manual labour along with them, but where is the choice now? We need some earning," he says.
Krishna, a physical education teacher, says he came home after the lockdown as he did not want to continue paying rent, an extra expense. "A lot of financial difficulty, no other work, so coming to MGNREGA work along with my wife so we can at least eat," he says, referring to the Mahatma Gandhi Employment Guarantee Act.
It is not just teachers. Even software professional Swapna, who till a couple of months ago was drawing over Rs 1 lakh, is now going to work as a manual labourer. "I can survive with my savings. I don't have to turn manual labourer just now. But how long will my savings last? The world and future has become uncertain. I must save for an emergency tomorrow. So when my in-laws are going to work, am also going with them, so I can get some extra income. There is no shame in doing any work. Why should I think because I am a software person I should not do this? Anything to survive," she says.