For school teacher Binodini Samal, reaching Rathiapala primary school in Dhenkanal district of Odisha for her teaching duties, is of utmost importance, even if it means crossing neck-deep swollen river.
The 49-year-old Samal has been teaching in the primary school since 2008 as a Ganasikshyak-- one of the thousands of contractual teachers appointed by Odisha school and mass education department in early 2000-- and her every day routine involves wading through the swollen Sapua river in monsoon in order to get to her school.
“For me, work matters more than anything else. What would I do sitting at home,” said Samal, whose first salary as a Ganasikhyak was mere Rs 1,700 and which has now reached Rs 7,000 a month.
The Rathiapal primary school where Samal teaches, has 53 students and is located across Sapua river about three kilometres away from her home in Jaripal village of Hindol block. A bridge was proposed to be built across the 40-metre breadth of the river a few years ago, but it hasn’t yet materialised.
So every day, Samal and school headmistress Kananbala Mishra, reach the school negotiating Sapura. Although it is mostly dry in summers, but in the rainy season and post-monsoon season, it gets tricky. The headmistress and students may sometimes miss the school due to the raging river during monsoon, but not Samal.
Two days ago, the photos of Samal crossing the gushing river with water up to her neck had gone viral on Facebook.
With her phone and other crucial items kept safely in a plastic bag, Samal crosses the river with one hand holding her bag overhead.
“I always keep a spare set of saree, petticoat and blouse in school almirah. While crossing the river, I keep my mobile phone and other necessary items in a plastic bag and keep it overhead while swimming through the river. I change into the school uniform of pink saree after reaching school all wet and soggy. I repeat the routine while going home. Even though I have fallen sick sometimes, I have never taken a day off,” said Samal, who teaches students from class 1 to 3.
Though a good swimmer, Samal has been close to getting washed away on several occasions. “Two years ago, I was thrown off-balance by the river current and drifted away for some time till I found solid ground. That day my vanity bag was completely wet,” she adds.
Samal stays with her brother and sister-in-law, who don’t approve of her swimming through the river. “I don’t tell them about the risks I have to undertake,” she said.
Damodar Pradhan, a local youth leader of Hindol, said Samal has been doing what no male teacher can even dare.
“In our area, people know that students may miss school but not Binodini madam. She should be given special award just for her devotion and total commitment to her duty,” said Pradhan.
Despite all the hard work though the years, Samal’s service still hasn’t been regularised, which should have been done in 2016 after 8 years of her service. “I should have been getting a monthly salary of Rs 27,000 for the last 3 years, but I am yet to get it,” Samal said.
Dhenkanal district collector Bhumesh Behera said he was not aware of the difficulties faced by the school teacher and would seek details.