Thousands of para-teachers from government schools across West Bengal have been protesting in Kolkata since Monday, November 11, demanding that the state government increase their salaries immediately. Even though the protest has been going on for four days in front of the office of Bikash Bhavan, Education Minister Partha Chatterjee’s Salt Lake office, neither the minister nor any officials from the state government have approached the protesters or tried to initiate a conversation with them. The protest has been organised under the banner of Para Teachers’ Aikya Mancha.
Madhumita Banerjee, a leader of the para-teachers’ movement, told NewsClick that thousands of teachers had earlier started an agitation in front of the education minister’s office on August 16, but Section 144 was imposed in the area to stop the protesters. The teachers kept moving their protest from site to site as the police continued their attempts of dispersing it. Finally, the teachers settled down in Kalyani, in the outskirts of Kolkata, where the police reportedly attacked them brutally. Banerjee said, “The male police harassed and beat up the female teachers, their clothes were torn, and some of them were gravely injured.”
She added, “That is when we realised that we could not protest in the city without police permission. However, the administration refused to revoke the Section 144, and unable to stage our agitation, we were forced to move to the court. The court on November 8 granted us the permission to peacefully protest in front of Bikash Bhavan.”
Following the verdict given by the Kolkata High Court, the para-teachers gave the call for a seven-day-long protest starting from Monday, November 11. The teachers started protesting near Bikash Bhavan. However, even though five days have passed since they started their protest, the state government has failed to even acknowledge their struggle. Banerjee said, “We sent a team to the minister’s office on Wednesday to submit a letter saying that the government must take a decision by Thursday or we will intensify our stir, but they had refused to receive the letter saying that we cannot tell them what to do. They finally accepted the letter yesterday.”
The para-teachers have been demanding that they be promoted to pay scale of assistant teachers. Banerjee said, “We do not have a pay scale. We receive a consolidated salary. The state government should ensure that we receive the same grade pay as assistant teachers, which will mean that we will also receive regular increments, dearness allowances, and medical allowances. The regular teachers also get child care leaves, which we do not. The government must ensure that we should get all the benefits, as we do the same amount of work as the regular teachers.”
Banerjee said that under the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, the state government provides 40% of the salaries of the para teachers, the remaining 60% is provided to the state government by the central government. She alleged that the para teachers in West Bengal have been receiving the 40%—supposed to be provided by West Bengal government—while the state government utilises the 60% provided by the central government for other expenditures. “While we are unable to feed our families on our meagre salaries, the state government is using the money that is rightfully ours to decorate government offices and run various schemes.”
She added, “The government is trying to purposely to keep delaying because we have the permission to protest only for seven days. But if they keep doing it, we will have to continue our agitation for longer. We will raise this issue in the court.” She told NewsClick that the next hearing has been scheduled for Monday, November 18.
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