The protesting para-teachers of West Bengal have temporarily withdrawn their indefinite hunger strike after 28 days, on being given written assurance by the state Education Department that their demand for a defined pay structure with regular increments, dearness allowance, medical allowance, and childcare leaves will be met. Para Teachers’ Aikya Manch, the organisation spearheading the movement, has said that they will resume the protest if their demands are not met within three months.
Thousands of para-teachers had been protesting outside state Education Minister Partha Chatterjee’s office since November 11. Thirty-seven para-teachers started the indefinite hunger strike on November 15, out of whom more than 10 teachers had to be admitted to the hospital over the next 28 days. Some of them had to withdraw because of medical conditions, and a couple of others also had to stop because of personal problems, but the hunger strike continued.
Talking to NewsClick, Madhumita Chatterjee, one of the leaders of the movement, said, “The education minister met our representatives on Wednesday, December 11, and told us that he will need some time to look into our demands. He did not mention the amount of time he would require. He did not even give us any written assurance. So, we decided to continue the hunger strike and the agitation.” She said that when the representatives asked the minister how long it will take for the state government to meet their demands, he failed to answer. “We could not believe his vague assurances. We know better than to trust this kind of promises made by the state government or its ministers,” she added.
Finally, on Thursday, the para-teachers were provided with written documentation of the promises made by the education minister, following which they temporarily withdrew their protest. Banerjee said, “We know that a pay structure should not be created in haste. The education minister has asked us for time, and we will give him that. We were finally provided with written assurance by the state government; so, we have decided to temporarily stop our movement for now. If we see in three months that the state government has not taken any steps to meet our demands, we will start an even larger movement.”
Earlier, Partha Chatterjee, when asked by the press whether he planned to visit the protest site or not, had said, “Why should I go there? I did not ask them to go on a hunger strike. They started the protest, they will figure out when to stop. They should understand that the government has done enough for them.” He had also claimed that the demands raised by the para-teachers are meaningless and they are disrupting the education of the students of government schools by boycotting the schools and continuing their agitation. This statement was made at a press conference on November 27.
So, the Para Teachers’ Aikya Manch is considering this written assurance as a victory. Banerjee said, “Now, we will focus all our attention on the protesters who had become ill during the hunger strike, and on our students. In the last month, we have seen that the people of the state are with us. The government will have to fulfill our demands.”