Teacher not allowed to use chair because of caste

Gopalgunj, Bihar: For five years, Seema Kumari has taught Science to children aged 3 to 12 at a government school in Bihar's Gopalgunj district.

She sits on the floor while she's coaching her students. In her classroom, there is no chair for her. "I am from a lower caste. That's why they don't let me sit on a chair. I have gone through a lot of agony because of this discrimination," she says, matter-of-factly.

If she betrays no emotion, it is because her battle for equality has been a lengthy and exacting one. Last year, she complained to the District Magistrate, pointing out that teachers from other castes were allowed to use chairs in their classrooms. That led to the principal of the school, Lal Dhari, being briefly suspended. He's back at work now, and remains unapologetic about Seema's work conditions. "Her appointment was not as per rules, so there is no question of giving her a chair,"he says.

Dhari alleges that Seema forged the documents required to qualify for her job. There is no proof of this, nor has Dhari ever complained about this to the local administration. In fact, Seema was one of the teachers appointed to government schools in the state as part of a government scheme in 2005.

"We will enquire into this and no one will be spared if found guilty," said Dr. Rakesh Chowdhary, District Education Officer, Gopalgunj.

Seema has a Bachelor's degree in Science. She earns Rs 5000 a month to help support her family - her husband and two children.   Though teachers' salaries are considered by many to be a national embarrassment, Seema says her students' respect is what's really worth earning. In addition to that, what she is in search of is some dignity.
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