On November 7, teachers in Punjab who had been recruited under central education programmes Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Rashtriya Madhyamik Siksha Abhiyan (RMSA), held protest marches in several places across the state under the banner of Sanjha Adhyapak Morcha, against the state government’s refusal to regularise them without pay cut. The teachers marched wearing black clothes to observe ‘Kali (black) Diwali’. They asked how they could celebrate Diwali when they had not received their salaries for five months.
Instead of decorating their houses for the festival, the teachers put up posters outside their houses, asking Congress leaders to not visit them asking for votes. “Ih adhyapak da ghar, koi bhi Congressee da iss ghar vich vote mangan auna sakhat mana hai (This is the house of a teacher, and Congress leaders are not allowed to visit seeking votes),” read a poster.
In Patiala, although the teachers had notified about the protest march, and were granted the permission, the police set up barricades at several places to stop the march. The teachers were allegedly harassed and manhandled by the police when they requested that the barricades be removed.
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The teachers have been protesting against the government’s decision to regularise 8,886 teachers after a probation period of three years, during which they would be paid a meager amount of Rs 15,300 per month. These contractual teachers were being paid a salary of Rs 42,700 per month for several years.
A notification had been issued by the Education Department, giving the teachers to either opt for regularisation, or continue with their contractual arrangement. The teachers were given the deadline of October 23 to confirm their decision. However, out of the 8,886 teachers, only around 600 teachers had reportedly responded to the notification, and about 94 per cent of them had opted for regularisation after the probation period, according to the government data.
“This data has been morphed by School Education Secretary Krishan Kumar, who said that 94 per cent of all the teachers have opted for regularisation. How can that be true, when most of us hadn’t even responded to the notification?” Asked Davinder Singh Punia, state committee convenor of Sanjha Adhyapak Morcha. He also said that even though the state government had received the fund from the central government, the teachers were not being paid their salaries. This is an attempt to force the teachers into making a choice, he claimed.
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On October 8, five teachers’ union leaders were suspended by the education ministry. More and more teachers are being transferred to distant schools, in an alleged attempt to stop them from protesting. “The regular teachers have also joined us in the protest, and they are being transferred to distant schools too. Out of all the teachers who have been transferred till now, 80 per cent were regular teachers, and were not part of SSA of RMSA schemes,” added Punia.
He said, “Due to our protest, the department has withdrawn the leave policy that was implemented in 2017. They have ordered that the old policy from the year 2014 will be applicable, which has decreased our number of leaves. A policy cannot be implemented in the middle of the session, but the government itself is breaking all the rules and regulations, in order to stop us from protesting.”
On October 23, the protesters were given the assurance that Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh would meet them on November 5, and listen to their demands. However, this meeting was postponed on the pretext that the issue is still being discussed by the department, enraging the teachers even more.
“It is so shameful that the education secretary is using lies, suspension, and transfers as weapons to kill our protest. But, we will continue with the agitation till our demands are met,” said Punia.