"Sir, with due respect, I beg to say that my father is a poor man and he is unable to pay my fees. Kindly grant me full fee concession." Mohammad Israil, 47, recites lines that he wrote to his principal in class 8, in order to prove that he does not need a class 10 passing certificate to drive trucks.
Life for Israil has come a full circle. A resident of Nuh district in Haryana and a truck driver by profession, he is facing the same problem his father did years ago. No money to run the house and pay school fees for his children.
Israil has been unemployed for the last one year due to non-renewal of his driving license.
In 2016, the Manohar Lal Khattar government declared that all truck drivers with licenses made from other states would need to make new ones from Haryana, and to be eligible for the new licence, the applicants must have studied till at least class 10. The BJP government in the state also decided to go digital for issuing licenses of heavy motor vehicles and thus a class 10 passing certificate as address proof, along with the Aadhaar card, became compulsory.
A victim of state government's 2016 policy, Mohammad Israil now has no money to run his house.
Israil, like most others in the district, had left school after the 8th standard.
"See, I remember lines in English that I wrote many years ago. You think I don't deserve a license? I have no home in the village and own no land either. My extended family is below the poverty line," says Israil, pointing at his driving license that expired a year ago after being renewed in regular intervals for the last 27 years. When working, he used to make Rs 30,000 a month and the family consisting of nine children was "content", unlike now.
Due to a lack of industries and fertile farmlands, most residents of Nuh opt for driving trucks as a means to earn their livelihood. Education level is also particularly low, as per a survey conducted by Niti Aayog. Therefore, when class 10 certificate became compulsory, the two problems together led to mass joblessness across the district.
In April 2018, Niti Aayog identified Nuh as the most backward district of India. In an assessment on multiple parameters such as education, health, agriculture, financial inclusion, skill development and infrastructure, Mewat scored 26 percent — the lowest across the country.
As per the 2011 Census, the region’s population was pegged at 10.89 lakh, of which the majority is mostly Meo-Muslims. An RTI filed by Haider Ali, a local activist in the area, revealed that there are close to one lakh truck drivers from Nuh registered with the Haryana transport department. "This is only those who have their licenses from Haryana. There are many who have registered from other states but are residents of Nuh," says Ali. A back of the envelope calculation says that roughly 60 percent of these truck drivers have been rendered jobless.
Haryana went to polls in the fifth phase, the issue was set to be a major deciding factor among the voters.
"Anyone who gets our licenses renewed will win elections without even campaigning, but no major political leader comes here throughout the five years. I am illiterate, how am I supposed to have a class 10th certificate?" says Asruddin, a resident of Akera village in Nuh. He has been unemployed for the last three years despite having driven trucks for over three decades. In order to pay for his expenses, he now works as a daily-wage labourer in the area and makes roughly Rs 8,000, a sharp fall from Rs 25,000 that he used to earn earlier.
The BJP government in the state also does not seem to have appeased many. The district has never been a stronghold of the party. In 2014, when Rao Inderjit Singh won the Gurugram Lok Sabha seat, only 54,000 of his 4.5 lakh votes came from this area. As part of his last-minute efforts, Rao in his rally on April 29 promised to address the issue of renewal of truckers’ driving licences.
"The state government is working to find out the solution to this issue. Once a new BJP government is formed at the Centre, we will discuss the matter with the Union road transport minister," Rao had said.
However, Jafar Khan, 49, a resident of Golpuri village in Nuh, is not convinced. Khan lost his job two years ago and has been trying to meet Rao ever since in order raise his problem of non-renewal of license. "The MP has hardly ever visited Nuh. I keep running to his party workers and request them for a meeting but he never comes here," Khan says.
Jafar Khan is struggling to get his daughter married and pay for his wife's medical treatment.
With no source of income for the last two years, Khan's family is heading for a clueless future. "All my savings are over. I need to get my daughter married and take care of my ailing wife. My sons are still studying in school. How do I pay their fees? If class 10 certificate was a compulsion, why didn't they ask for it while we were making it, why now suddenly?" he argues.
"One can find a truck driver in every family, but now, all of them are unemployed," he adds, pointing at the extent of the problem.
Khan insists that he has no problem in reading boards on highways and can "reach any address written on a piece of paper."
A study by Sehgal Foundation sponsored by Niti Aayog states that in the district only 0.3 percent schools have classes after standard 8th, explaining why producing a class 10 certificate has been impossible for the truckers.
Emailed queries to Haryana's transport department and Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways did not illicit any response till the time of publishing this story.
Meanwhile, before grumpily walking away, Mohammad Israil turns back and says, “I also remember a story in English I had read. ‘Once there was a crow. He was very thirsty and did not find water anywhere’," he narrates. "Sab aata hai humein (we understand everything),” he says before walking inside his thatched house, which is screaming for repair.