New Delhi: About 450 School Service Commission (SSC) candidates in West Bengal sat on an indefinite hunger strike in March, demanding that recruitment be made in the numerous vacant seats across the state. The hunger strike started on February 28, and was withdrawn on the evening of March 28, after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee assured them that the issues raised by them will be looked into immediately, and their demands will be met by the first week of June.
After 29 days of sitting on the streets with empty stomachs, the candidates had withdrawn their hunger strike though they were not satisfied with the Chief Minister’s assurance. Sheikh Insaan Ali, convener of the movement, had told NewsClick, “we are neither content nor assured yet, but we are hoping that the Chief Minister will abide by her words. With this hope, we are withdrawing our hunger strike for the time being. If she does not keep her promise, we will resume our hunger strike again after the first week of June.”
During the hunger strike, 86 protesters had been admitted in hospital. Two women had allegedly suffered miscarriages at the protest venue. Since the beginning of the protest, Education Minister Partha Chatterjee had made his indifference clear towards the movement, repeatedly saying that the deserving candidates have been recruited or will be recruited, said the protesters. However, as the movement kept growing, the chef minister was forced to form a five-member committee to look into the issue.
Talking to NewsClick, Sheikh Sirajuddin, an SSC candidate who was part of the hunger strike said, “the first two weeks of June have passed. We had withdrawn our hunger strike on the condition that our demands would be met by the first week of this month. The education minister had formed a five-member committee and regular meetings were supposed to be held to look into our issues, but nothing has been done yet.”
He said that the candidates have not been called for a single meeting. “It looks like the state government has forgotten our issues. We have given them an ultimatum; if they do not take a decision in the matter by June 20, we will start the movement again, at a much bigger scale”, he added.
The hunger strike had attracted support and solidarity from a number of organisations and individuals. Veteran thespian Soumitra Chatterjee, poetess Mandakranta Sen, had criticised the state government for its “indifference” in the matter. The Students’ Federation of India, Democratic Youth Federation of India and the All India Democratic Women’s Association had organised solidarity rallies in the city. Jnanpith awardee poet Shankha Ghosh, too, had talked to the protesters on telephone on March 27 urging them to withdraw their strike for the time being. He told them if their demands were not met on time, he would join them in their protest.