New Delhi: More than 30,000 teachers employed in Shishu Shiksha Kendras (SSKs) and Madhyamik Shiksha Kendras (MSKs) blocked the road to Bikash Bhavan, the office of the Education Minister, West Bengal, on the evening of Thursday, March 7, demanding that their honorariums be increased. Around 10,000 SSK and MSK teachers had been agitating at Bidhan Nagar, Kolkata since March 1, protesting against the current government’s refusal to increase their honorariums since the past seven years. All Bengal Teachers’ Association has extended their support to the protesting SSK and MSK teachers.
The SSKs and MSKs were established by the state government to bring underprivileged children within the ambit of the school education system. They are attended mainly by children from disadvantaged backgrounds, the privileged sections usually avoid these schools. SSKs and MSKs form a substantial part of the total number of schooling institutes in several districts of West Bengal.
Talking to Newsclick, Rekha Das Giri, an SSK teacher, or sahayika, as they are called, said, “I have been working as an SSK teacher since 2003. Back then, our honorarium was Rs 1,000. The Left Front government gradually hiked it to Rs 5,954 by 2010. Our dearness allowance was also increased every three years. But the Trinamool Congress government has even stopped paying us the DA.”
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Giri said, “We have been working day and night to bring education to the underprivileged children. We want our honorarium to be increased, as do the same amount of work as the teachers in regular schools, if not more.”
She said seven years ago, during the Left Front government in state, the honorarium for the SSK and MSK teachers was Rs 5,954 and Rs 8,854, respectively. The amount has remained the same since then.
According to a report titled Primary Education in West Bengal published in July 2018, by the Pratichi Trust founded by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, the SSK programme faced several problems including paucity of infrastructure and staff. The report said, “There is no reason why the SSKs should not either be upgraded to or placed at par with regular schools in terms of infrastructure and human resources. Besides the lack of infrastructure, the Sahayikas of the SSKs are paid a meagre amount as honorarium, that too quite irregularly. They also lack proper training and orientation. This policy neglect, amounting to nothing short of exclusion, has perhaps been exacerbated by the lack of public discussion on this issue.”
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Talking to media about the agitation by SSK and MSK teachers, Education Minister of the state, Partha Chatterjee, said that the government was ‘sympathetic’ to their issue, and he would bring the matter to the Chief Minister’s notice. However, there have been no indications of him having done this so far.
After the teachers blocked the road to Bikash Bhavan, the Education Minister was forced to call a team of representatives to his office, where he sought one month’s time to look at the matter. However, the teachers did not agree to that. Finally, the West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi had to intervene in the matter. He condemned the “inhuman treatment “of SSK and MSK teachers, and gave them a written assurance that their demands would be met within 15 days.
Following this, Giri said, “We have withdrawn our protest for the time being, but if our demands are not met within 15 days, we will start protesting again, and this time, we will go on indefinite hunger strike.”