Despite the Bharatiya Janata Party’s stellar performance in Assam in the recently held Lok Sabha polls, the ruling party in the state seems to have utterly failed to provide people with job security — as over 15 thousand teachers stormed the Khanapara Veterinary Ground in Guwahati on Saturday, June 29, demanding regularisation of their jobs. The teachers, united under the umbrella of the Sodou Axom Prathomik TET Uttirna Sikshak Samaj (All Assam Primary TET-Qualified Teachers' Association), a body of Teacher Eligibility Test (TET)-qualified teachers, registered their protests by shouting slogans such as "No Regular, No Rest! We want justice!”
Educationist Dinesh Baishya; journalist Adip Kumar Phukan; general secretary of All Assam Primary Teachers' Association, Ratul Goswami; and general secretary of the Asom Jatityatabdi Yuva Chhatra Parishad (AJYCP), Palash Changmai, also addressed the gathering and expressed solidarity with the protesting teachers.
CONFINEMENT OF TEACHERS BY COPS
Thousands of TET-qualified teachers had initially planned to launch a rally called Dispur Chalo, starting from Khanapara to the state capital Dispur on foot to meet Assam Education Minister Siddhartha Bhattacharya. But, as they gathered in the Veterinary Ground, more than 300 CRPF jawans as well as the Assam Police locked them inside the ground, citing security reasons.
On being asked why the teachers were denied permission for the march, Debaraj Upadhaya, Joint Commissioner of Police, Guwahati, said, "See, permission is conditional and situational. This big a crowd we can’t allow. This may disrupt the normal movement of the city. There is a single road. Had there been a small crowd, the matter could have been considered, but as the crowd is so large,we cannot allow them to pass through the main road."
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The paramilitary and cops had already cordoned off the entire road leading to Dispur from the Veterinary Ground. The heavy deployment of security forces was indicative of the apathetic attitude of the BJP government and the education minister, with whom the protesting TET teachers wanted a meeting.
The teachers, some of who cleared the TET seven years ago, are demanding regularisation of their services along with unconditional job security. Even though there are more than 41,000 TET-qualified teachers' jobs which are pending regularisation till now, the education minister has recently announced another round of TET examination to be held in September 2019, as well as new recruitments.
About two weeks back, the TET teachers launched a unique form of protest, by adding "driver" before their names on social media platform to condemn Assam Education Minister Siddhartha Bhattacharya's recent remarks comparing the TET teachers' certificates to driver's license.
Bhattacharya, in a live interview with All India Radio (AIR), Guwahati, on June 13, while responding to a TET-qualified teacher's question, had said on air that TET teachers will have to renew their qualification or the certificate of the examination like drivers' licence, which needs to be renewed from time to time. Taking a cue from the Modi government's pre-poll campaign of prefixing "Chowkidar", the TET teachers began prefixing “drivers” on their Facebook and Twitter handles. However, the origins of the June 29 Dispur Chalo protest was much before. Nearly 41,000 contractual teachers, who are working in different parts of Assam for more than 3-7 years, have been demanding regularisation of jobs for the past couple of years.
WHY TEACHERS TAKING IT TO THE STREETS?
Diparnav Ghosh, general secretary of the All Assam TET Teachers’ Association, said, "We, the TET teachers of Assam, have assembled here to appeal to the government with our only demand that is unconditional regularisation of all the TET teachers, with full-pay protection. We have been tendering our sincere service since 2012. It has been 7 years, but till today, the government has not paid any heed to our demands."
"They are trying to remove us from our jobs, but they are not listening to us in any way. They have been trying to pressurise us from day one. So today, we have assembled here to appeal to the government that we are agitating here democratically, and if the government won't listen to us, then this agitation will continue," added the aggrieved teacher.
Talking about the education minister's comment, Ghosh, "Our education minister in a radio talk show, compared our certificates- the certificate which we had acquired after passing a tough competitive exam- to a driving licence. We felt humiliated, we felt insulted. From that day onwards, we have started agitating."
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Kaustav Chakrobarty, a contractual teacher from Cachar district, said, "Our Assam government violated the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009 and norms of the state rules. There are certain norms already enlisted in the RTE provided by the governor of Assam, in which, in serial no. 18, section 23, subsection 1, a, b,c, there are salary conditions of our service given. In that section, it is written that a particular government or autonomous council shall notify salary sub-conditions of teachers, in order to create professional and permanent cadre of teachers. For this, they created our posts, under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), which is only a project. This is the reason why we are suffering in terms of regularisation."
Chakrobarty also informed that there are two categories of contractual teachers now — some are under the SSA project, while some are called state-pool teachers. "SSA teachers are getting salary regularly, but the state-pool teachers, who form another category, in their case, they are not getting salary monthly properly," he added.
Interestingly, it was Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal who had reportedly distributed the engagement letters to 11,648 jobs under the state-pool category on August 8, 2017. As per a report in a local online portal Time8, then Education Minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma, had said that the government had "created 12,800 additional posts to make way for appointment of the 11,648 teachers" back in August 2017 — as the validity of their TET qualification would expire on September 15, 2017. He also reportedly said that posts for the new teachers had been created under state pool, and their appointment was not regular or under the SSA. The new teachers would also not get salary in parity with the TET teachers appointed under SSA. Bhattacharya replaced Sarma as education minister in April 2018 after a ministry reshuffle.
Sarma as the education minister both during the previous Congress regime and later under the BJP government, did not take any step towards regularisation of the TET teachers' jobs. Meanwhile, from 2012 to 2017, there have been 7 phases of appointments of TET-qualified teachers under different categories. The fate of all these teachers are still hanging in balance due to the government’s neglect towards their issues.
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While TET teachers from 33 districts of Assam gathered at the Khanapara Veterinary Ground, the education minister, instead of meeting them or at least accepting their memorandum, sent the Guwahati Police Commissioner Deepak Kumar to accept the memorandums in his stead, amid roaring slogans of the teachers. For a number of teachers the situation has become very difficult, as most of their TET certificates have already expired or are soon to expire. The education minister’s comment that they may have to take another round of TET examination to remain eligible to apply for a regular job has only worsened their situation.
The writer is an independent content management consultant based in Assam.