http://harvestreport.uzbekgermanforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/karikatura-khlopok.jpg 1152 2048 Sophie Falsini http://harvestreport.uzbekgermanforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/UGF-Logo.png Sophie Falsini2017-11-10 22:25:002017-11-10 22:25:00Interview with a Teacher of a Secondary School, Sirdarya Region
3 November 2017
For security reasons, we have not disclosed the name or exact place of work.
I work in a school (name of the school withheld). We were sent to pick cotton on 6 September and we finished our work in early November. This year the cotton harvest lasted two months. The director of the school told us at a meeting who would go first. He divided the teachers into several groups and showed us a list of teachers who were supposed to go out to pick cotton on the first shift. I was on this list and prepared to leave for the day’s harvest.
Every school worker has to participate in the cotton harvesting. The director did not exempt anyone, even if there was a good reason. He demanded that teachers who cannot work on the field hire somebody instead of themselves, while the teacher remained at work in school. Mardikors (hired workers) were paid 20-30,000 soums per day. In addition, every Sunday, the director collected 20,000 soums from teachers and said that with this money he would hire additional mardikors for the harvest. But, as I was picking cotton every day, I know that the money collected was not always used for hiring mardikors. This money was shared between the director and his deputy. If a teacher refused to go to the harvest and did not pay the money for a mardikor, the principal summoned him/her to his office and held a conversation with him. Colleagues said that these conversations are held in a very sharp tone. I had to go out every day to pick cotton so as not to hear all this.
From our school, four to five employees, mostly men, went to the harvest with an overnight stay. Due to the fact that living conditions in the fields are very difficult, not all woman can cope with it. For this reason, the director sent only men to spend the night. We went out for the day’s harvest. The cotton fields were located 20-30 km from the school. Every day we went there and back by bus. On the field we were supervised by an employee of the city administration of public education, a man named Odil and his colleague. Together they performed the duties of weighing, checking the quota and recording how much cotton was harvested in a notebook.
In early September, the days are long. In the first month the harvest is arduous. We worked 10 hours a day, from 6am till night-time. But in October the cotton became sparse, and we worked for 8 hours.
There were no days off. If we want to rest, we have to send someone else instead. One Sunday I asked for release from the director, but he harshly rejected my request. Instead of myself, I sent my sister that day, because I had a very important reason to be absent.
Representatives of the city education department monitored the fulfilment of the quota and recorded how much we had picked in their notebooks. If we picked less than the quota, this was reported to the school principal. In the beginning, the daily quota was 60-70 kg, then at the end it was reduced to 30-40 kg. In recent weeks, there has been no cotton at all and they were handing over dirty cotton that they had swept from the fields. This cotton was damp and heavy. I myself tried to fulfil the quota from the very beginning to the end of the collection. Initially, I collected 50-55 kg, in the middle of the season, 40 kg and at the very end I collected 20-25 kg of cotton. If the quota was not fulfilled by a difference of 5-6 kg, we were not scolded. But if we did not fulfil the quota by a big difference, we were sent to speak to the director. The director of such employees criticized them harshly, which was very upsetting.
This year, the pay for cotton doubled. For each kg of cotton collected, 500-550 soums ($0,6) were paid. If you collect 55 kg, you will receive money for about 50 kg.
The farmer once cooked lunch for us. We took extra food from home as we started working very early and could not wait until 1 o’clock.
This year, my colleagues and I expected teachers to be released from cotton picking. But this did not happen. Nevertheless, we do not die from picking cotton. These two months have passed. But if you ask me if I want to pick cotton, I will answer- I am a teacher and my workplace should be in an educational institution.
At the time of cotton picking, 35 out of 100 workers from our school worked on the field at the same time. All this time lessons were neglected.
We are also recruited to do other public works. For example, last year, dozens of houses were assigned to each teacher. We went from house to house, studied the demands and proposals from the residents and all this had to be recorded. In addition, we were often called upon to clean the streets. Especially in the spring, together with the students, we organize “Subbornik” (free work on Saturdays which was a tradition during Soviet times).
Khashar should be voluntary. At most, it should last no more than two to three days, not two months. It seems to me that the view that cotton is a national khashar is wrong. If it was khashar, then everyone would go of their own accord.
My children are still young. My husband does not work in a public institution, and so he was not forced to go to pick cotton. But I spent a month on a cotton field. In the days when I collected 50 kg of cotton I received 20-25,000 soums. Of this money, every day 3-4,000 was spent on taxis and I bought food with the rest. Although the bus to the field was brought free of charge, I went by taxi to the place where people gathered for the bus, so I made no profit from the cotton.
I did not hire a mardikor. What’s the use of paying him 25,000 soums a day, and still I have to work in the school? It is better then to go yourself.
I did not speak with foreign observers myself (ILO experts had been conducting interviews during the cotton harvest). But I heard from others how they talked with the cotton pickers. During the conversation they asked about the conditions, about food, drinking water, salary, attitude to the harvest. All employees responded positively. The reason is that our people are used to this state of affairs. They also want to make a good impression on foreigners. No one instructed them, but why bother the foreigners by telling them about the present situation?! Anyway, they will not solve our problems.
Complaining about forced labor, there is no use! Everyone knows this. The state bodies themselves are behind this, so who is to complain? We all understand this is well. All this is useless. There is no hope.
For the days that I was picking cotton I received a salary from my main job. Because, after returning, I filled out all the school papers as if I had been conducting classes. But actually I was on the field.