In the town of Gulistan (Syrdarya region), there are about 16 schools and 15 kindergartens. They are all under the direction of the Education Department. Employees of these organizations are ordered by the hokim (governor) of the city to gather every day at 6 o’clock in the morning next to the Syrdarya Regional Theatre and are sent to the cotton fields. Syrdarya Regional Theatre is a 5-minute walk from the building of the regional administration and the regional trade union organizations. At 7 pm, they are brought back to the same place again. 30-40% of school teachers and educators are sent to the field on a daily basis. School principals are responsible for sending teachers to the field according to a schedule which changes every 10 days.
The school directors, the city prosecutors, sometimes the governor himself and the head of the Education Department often come to the teachers’ gathering point. The officials check the number of teachers leaving for the fields. Each school director delivers a list with the names and the number of teachers who are present to the representative of the Department of Education. At the end of each 10-day shift when there is a rotation of the teachers going to the fields, school directors hand the Education Department a new list with the names of new mobilized teachers.
The arranged buses are free of charge for teachers, but all costs are covered by the managers of private transport enterprises. This means that they are obliged by the state administration to provide buses for free.
Teachers working in the cotton field need to take their meals with them. There is no additional food provided in the field. According to the teachers, even the water brought to the fields does not meet hygiene requirements and no one is responsible for its drinking quality.
Interviews with the teachers of the city of Gulistan
“This year, paying oneself off from picking cotton became more expensive – 15-20 thousand soms a day. However, despite paying the money, you still have to go to school every day. I paid 200 thousand Som ($ 32) to the director for being exempted from going to the fields for 10 days. But the director said that we needed to work for those who left for the fields too. I told the director that officially I was on the cotton harvest, but she insisted that I had to help the school during this time, since there were not enough teachers. ‘Then what am I paying the money for?’, I asked. This is a large amount for me. Now it turns out that despite paying the money I have to work from morning till night for those who left as well. Now, when it’s my turn to go on the field, it’s better for me to go and pick cotton, since it is cheaper in the end.”
“A few days ago some inspectors came to the field. I do not know which organization they belonged to. Prior to their arrival, while we were having dinner, the person in charge of the fieldwork rushed to us and warned all the teachers not to talk too much. He added, ‘if you are asked where and who you work with, answer that you work in a school or as a cleaner or as a security guard. Above all, tell them that you came here to pick cotton of your own free will.’ The inspectors arrived and we all responded accordingly. So, does it mean that the fact that we are teachers picking cotton this time is not legal?! It is a pity that there was no daredevil among us who was brave enough to speak out! “
Monitor report in Syrdarya region, September 19, 2016,