‘Pious duty’ to fear and fatigue: Lok Sabha election for thousands of teachers among polling staff

2024 Election: School, college teachers are a large part of polling staff and schools and some colleges serve as polling stations.

Polling personnel, many of them teachers, collect EVMs, VVPATs at the mandi in Greater Noida in 2019 ( Image : Careers360 )Polling personnel, many of them teachers, collect EVMs, VVPATs at the mandi in Greater Noida in 2019 ( Image : Careers360 )

Pritha Roy Choudhury | April 18, 2024 | 11:47 AM IST

NEW DELHI: Vijay Kumar* has had to travel to a polling booth 60 km from home in Chhapra, in Saran district of Bihar. A postgraduate teacher for over a decade, he is usually the presiding officer and once he collects his team and equipment – electronic voting machines (EVM), Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machine, lists, ink seals and more – he has to stay with them until voting is over.

“We need to spend the night in the booth, with no bed or any area to sleep. We spread the sheets and try to spend the night together with the mosquitoes. It is terrible. The next day polling starts from 7 am and we constantly man the booth without any break,” he said. Once voting is over, the machines are packed and sealed and loaded onto a carrier. “I have to travel in the carrier with the EVMS, a huge number of boxes loaded with documents because the seats near the driver of the truck are occupied by the collector and the deputy collector,” he said. The three other polling officers go back on two-wheelers and if they don’t have one, travel with Kumar.

Saran’s 2024 election date is May 20, in the fifth phase of the seven-phase 2024 election.

When the Lok Sabha election 2024 begins on April 19, many members of the polling teams taking down names, checking voter ID cards, inking fingers and activating the EVMs will be government school teachers. According to the Election Commission of India’s Narrative Report for the last general election, the ECI had over 9.2 lakh polling personnel, not counting those from the police and security forces. The polling booths are also typically in schools or other educational institutions.

Whether education finds place in the Lok Sabha election 2024 manifestos or not, the education infrastructure – its schools and teachers – are an integral part of the election machinery.

“I have been on election duty several times in the past 10-plus years of my service,” said Kumar. “I have seen Lok sabha elections, assembly elections, panchayat elections, PACCS or Primary Agriculture Cooperative Credit Societies elections, and the elections of the fisheries department.”

Lok Sabha Election: Lists of teachers

With the first phase of the elections tomorrow, most of the schools and colleges have received the list of teachers to be deployed for election duty. The experience of conducting elections varies widely among teachers.

The registrar of a national institute in Maharashtra said: “It is a very different experience and an honour to participate in a democratic process because ultimately, this is what democracy is all about and at the grassroots level it comes to elections. I feel it is part of a very pious duty.”

Another school teacher from Tinsukia, Assam, will be part of an all-women’s team in charge of a booth.

Alka Borgohain, a teacher at a college under Gauhati University, was deputed to the ECI to serve as a master trainer for polling parties. “First we were trained, and the experience was nice as we next had to train the government officials on the whole process of manning a polling booth. What bothers me is that sometimes, on the same day, three teachers need to go for election duty, and so teaching does not happen and the students suffer," she said.

In some parts of West Bengal, teachers are wary of election duty fearing violence and interference. The teachers need to be in the booth for almost 36 hours at a stretch.

“We face a lot of problems. There were a lot of requests to spare the heads of the institution from election duty but that did not happen. Now it is all the more difficult as recruitment is not happening and there is a shortage of teachers,” said a headmaster of a government school in North 24 Parganas district and the Barasat Lok Sabha constituency which votes on June 1, the final, seventh phase of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

He added that he and colleagues also fear attempts at rigging. “The day before a state election, some people came and told us not to take the slips for counting. But I could resist and thankfully, I had the security to deal with it but many polling officers did not have adequate security,” he said, adding that the situation is usually under control during parliamentary elections but not so much in the others.

“I cannot even describe the situation in state and panchayat elections. There is no security in those elections,” he said.

Spare teachers

In some parts, teachers campaign to be spared from election duty. “Teachers should be given election duty only when there is a crunch in manpower for this duty, just as doctors are left out of election duty in a government system, teachers should also be the last resort,” said Amit Kumar Singh, assistant professor, department of Botany, Magadh University, Bodh Gaya.

For Singh, it is not serving as a polling party member that is a problem but teachers being engaged for a large variety of tasks other than conducting the polls and for a long period of time.

“Why is our duty as a teacher taken for granted? It is sad to see that the teachers are also involved in checking cars of the VIPs,” he said. In earlier elections, different states have included teachers in flying surveillance teams – or “flying squads” – and even as videographers.

Magadh University: EVM strongroom

Magadh University is even more impacted than the usual educational institution serving as polling station because it also has a strongroom for securing EVMs before and after polling, right till counting.

Gaya votes in the first phase, that is, tomorrow; counting is on June 4.

“Elections in Bodh Gaya will be held in the first phase on April 19, on June 4, the counting will take place, so from April 19 to June 4, teachers and students will not be able to visit the college because it is a highly secured zone. So no classes and we all know how much the students are comfortable with online classes,” said Singh.

He suggests having strongrooms in separate buildings and not in educational institutions.

All names of school and college teachers changed on request, except that of Amit Kumar Singh.

Follow us for the latest education news on colleges and universities, admission, courses, exams, research, education policies, study abroad and more..

To get in touch, write to us at news@careers360.com.

Download Our App

Start you preparation journey for JEE / NEET for free today with our APP

  • Students300M+Students
  • College36,000+Colleges
  • Exams550+Exams
  • Ebooks1500+Ebooks
  • Certification16000+Certifications