Almost 450 candidates who had applied for the post of assistant teachers and are in the waiting list of the School Service Commission (SSC) have been sitting on an indefinite hunger strike since February 28, in front of the Press Club, Dharmatala, Kolkata. These are candidates who had taken the SSC exams in 2013 and 2017, had qualified the exam and are on the waiting list for recruitment. They are demanding that recruitments be made in the numerous vacant seats across schools in West Bengal.
Talking to Newsclick, Sheikh Sirajuddin, a candidate who had taken the exam in 2017, for which the results were declared in 2018, said, “There has been no recruitment since 2014. Thousands of seats are lying vacant across schools in the state. The Education Minister says that qualified people were recruited. Does that mean that we not qualified enough? We have all the documents and papers proving that we are.”
Bijoy Ghorai, a member of Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), which has extended solidarity to the candidates sitting on hunger strike, told Newsclick, “More than 5,000 candidates are waiting to be recruited since 2014. They have been holding regular protest demonstrations, demanding that the vacant seats be filled. However, the government hasn’t paid any heed to their demands. The government is not only making the lives of the candidates difficult, it is also putting the education of students in jeopardy.”
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State Education Minister Partha Chatterjee met the agitating candidates on the fourth day of the hunger strike. However, they did not receive any assurance from him. The minister met a group of five representatives at his office, Bikash Bhavan, but yet again, failed to give any assurance. In what is being termed as a display of insensitivity, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reportedly said that the candidates could continue their hunger strike for as long as they wanted, and that the government could not do anything in the matter.
Ghorai said, “The last recruitment notification was released in 2014. After that, no notification has been released till date. The Education Minister said that since the elections were nearing, he needed to release another notification before it. If he fills the vacant seats now, he will not be able to release the notification. He is playing with the livelihoods of 5,000 people.”
Meanwhile, the candidates have refused to stop their agitation until their demands are met. These are the people who are in the waiting list for post of assistant teachers in high school, and for the posts of work and physical education teachers. Rani Soren, from Bankura district of West Bengal, has been sitting on hunger strike with her 16-month-old child. Another candidate, Nasreen Khatun, from Birbhum district, has been participating in the protest with her three-month-old infant in her lap.
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Even the storm and heavy rain on the night on March 5 failed to deter the protesters. Several candidates who had been sitting on hunger strike since February 28, had to be hospitalised because of health complications, but even that has not discouraged the protesters. Mayukh Biswas, All India General Secretary of Students Federation of India (SFI), and Srijan Bhattacharyya, West Bengal State Secretary of SFI, met the protesters on March 5, and expressed solidarity with them. On March 6, CPI(M) leader and MP Mohammed Salim also visited the agitating teachers and lent his support. However, the state government seems to have turned a blind eye to the proteststs.