Patna: Virendar Kumar, Ganesh Prasad, Nazia Khatoon, Bhola Paswan, Harender Yadav and Santosh Kumar are six among the 4.5 lakh striking contractual school teachers in Bihar, locally known as ‘Niyojit Shikshak’, facing a difficult situation during the ongoing lockdown as they have not been paid salary for the past three months.
“We are struggling for survival during the lockdown as most of us have not been paid the salary of January and February as we protested against the Nitish Kumar government's failure to fulfil our demands including ‘equal pay for equal work’ and reverting to the old pension scheme,” Virendar, a striking school teacher from Naubatpur block in Patna, said.
He said that several teachers have been forced by situation to knock on the doors of moneylenders or borrow on high interest rates to purchase essential items like rice, flour, pulses, potato and medicines.
Another teacher, Ganesh from Paliganj block in the district, said, “My close relatives have given some money, but that is not enough to manage the family of five members till April 14 [when the lockdown is supposed to end]. I am worried about it”.
He said most striking teachers are living like paupers" as they have not been paid salary for months.
Similarly, Nazia, a striking teacher from Haspura block in Aurangabad district, said that the Chief Minister should order the Education Department to pay our pending salary for the striking period without any delay and the government should pay our salary of March on April 1. “How can one survive without money? And salary is our main source of livelihood,” said the mother of three children, whose husband is a marginal farmer in the village
Till date, Bihar has reported nine confirmed cases of COVID-19 including one death. Dr. Pradeep Das, the Director of Patna-based Rajendra Memorial Research Institute (RMRI), where COVID-19 tests are being done in Bihar, confirmed the same.
Brajnandan Sharma, convener of Bihar Rajya Shikshak Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti, told NewsClick: “One can imagine how striking teachers and their families were managing life without salary. But after lockdown, it has become a much bigger challenge. Majority of them will be pushed to starvation if not paid salary on humanitarian grounds to survive during the lockdown”.
Another striking teachers’ leader, Bhola Paswan, and Suresh Prasad of Bihar Madhyamik Shikshak Sangh reiterated this demand.
Bihar Opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav, too, has demanded that the state government pay salary to the striking teachers in view of unprecedented crisis following outbreak of coronavirus and lockdown. “It is not the proper way to sit on their salaries because they are striking.”
CPI(M) state secretary Awadesh Kumar said, “Our party has been supporting striking teachers and their demands. Now we demand that the government pay them their salary first”.
Last month, Bihar Education Minister Krishnandan Prasad Verma had warned striking teachers that they would be marked absent and their salary would be deducted on the ‘no work no pay’ principle.
Striking contractual school teachers, mostly from primary and middle schools, had not celebrated Holi earlier this month to mark their protest. They have been on an indefinite strike since February 17, the day class X examination by the Bihar School Examination Board (BSEB) started. Yet, there has been no move to open a dialogue with them.The strike has reportedly affected teaching in schools badly.
The strike call has been given by the Bihar Rajya Shikshak Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti, a joint platform of 26 school teachers’ associations.
According to Samiti leaders, teachers were not just unhappy, but also angry with the government for “deliberately ignoring” their demands of salary at par with the permanent teachers in various state government schools.
The state government has, so far, acted against more than 8,000 striking teachers by suspending, dismissing and lodging cases against them.
Different organisations and associations of striking teachers have expressed dismay over the harsh or punitive action by the government against the teachers who are protesting peacefully for their rights.