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„I did not know that it is possible to call somewhere and complain that I have been sent to harvest cotton. Although I could, I still did not call“.

I teach in the Kokand City College of Computer Technologies. We were sent to pick cotton on September 7 for 10 days with an overnight stay. We returned on September 17. The college employs 50 people in total, of which about 60-70% leave for the fields in shifts. We were told that if the inspectors came, we needed to tell them that all teachers with higher education were at work in the college, and that we were cleaners, watchmen, electricians, technicians, gardeners…

Those who did not want to or could not go to harvest cotton were threatened that if they did not find another person to replace them, they would have to write a letter of resignation. They said if there were not enough people from the college, the college director would be punished by the Head of the Public Education Department and the khokim (governor of the city).

I did not sign any documents, but the director always threatens me with dismissal for disobeing him.

During the cotton season, college classes are only a formality. 2-3 teachers watch the children, but in reality they are only supervising them in the classroom and making sure they are not too noisy.

Who gives the orders to pick cotton? Our director said very simply, “Tomorrow there will be a cotton harvest with an overnight stay. Be prepared! There is a verbal order from the top”.

You can buy yourself out for money. It is not a bribe, just the money needed to pay a woman (mardikor), who will do the work for you. It costs $ 100 to buy yourself out for the entire season.

On the field where I worked, the farmer provided us with drinking water. Breakfast and dinner was at the expense of the college. Lunch was prepared by the farmer on whose field we picked cotton. They sent us to the field camp (shiypan). We went with our camp-cots and blankets. Some slept on the floor. The weather is good these days. If the cold came, it would be more difficult of course. We were transported to the field by the buses “Otoyol”. These are secure buses from some transportation company. The drivers were also there day and night. As they said, the transport costs are covered by the company.

We were told that every 5 days, we would be paid 261 Som ($0,04) per kg of harvested cotton. For daily meals they took 3,000 Som ($0,5). I was paid for three days. I received a total of 22,000 Som ($3,5). They promised to pay the rest of the money later, and said that our colleagues who left the field after us would bring the rest of the money.

From the money I received, I spent about 10-15,000 Som for baths in local residents’ houses, sugar and biscuits which I bought from the store. So I have spent almost all the money I earned.

I did not know that it was possible to call somewhere and complain for being sent to harvest cotton. Although I could, I still did not call anyone. This is a “holiday” for all of us. 10 days have already passed. Two more months of the cotton season will pass. Now we go to the cotton fields every day in shifts and every weekend picking cotton is compulsory for everyone. But this time will pass. And even if I did complain, the director would not stop plaguing me. I would rather work and be quiet.

Interview with the teachers, Kokand city

September 20, 2016