The School Service Commission (SSC) candidates who had been protesting continuously for 29 days in West Bengal withdrew their hunger strike on the evening of March 28. The decision to end the strike was taken after the candidates were assured by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee that their issues will be dealt with immediately, and their demands will be met by the first week of June 2019.
Talking to Newsclick, Sheikh Insan Ali, convener of the movement, said, “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.”
In the winter of 2006, Bengal’s current Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, then the leader of opposition in the state, went on a hunger strike against the construction of a Tata Motors small car factory in Singur. The factory was not built. Her stark opposition to Tata Motors, and her promise of giving back the lands to farmers- the rightful owners- played a major role in her winning the West Bengal Legislative Assembly and becoming the Chief Minister of the state. Trinamool Congress (TMC) assumed power with a landslide win 13 years after its formation.
Also Read: 450 School Service Commission Candidates from West Bengal on Indefinite Hunger Strike
The 2011 Assembly election in West Bengal also marked the defeat of the longest-serving democratically elected communist government in the world, ending the 34-year rule of the Left Front government. Mamata Banerjee came to power with the promise of change, of betterment. However, after eight years in power in Bengal, it looks like the conditions have definitely changed for the ordinary people, just not for better.
When 450 candidates went on an indefinite hunger strike starting from February 28, they did not expect the TMC government to maintain a stoic silence on their issues. However, that is exactly what happened, and even when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee or State Education Minister Partha Chatterjee were forced to address the issue, they did so with a certain disregard for the candidates, which enraged the striking protesters even more.
State Education Minister Partha Chatterjee had met the protestors on the fourth day of their hunger strike. The gravity of the issue and the accusations made by the candidates, of the state government destroying their lives by not giving them the jobs that they deserve, made it impossible for him to ignore the issue. However, nothing came out of this meeting, or the next meeting that happened at the Minister’s office in Bikash Bhavan, where he met a group of five representatives. He repeatedly failed to give the candidates any written assurance, and they continued their protest, unaffected by the adverse weather conditions, lack of any facilities, and deteriorating health of several protesters.
By the time the hunger strike reached its 29th day, 86 protesters had been admitted in the hospital. Two women had suffered miscarriages at the protest venue. Despite of all the difficulties, the candidates continued to sit on the hunger strike, determined to have their demands met.
On the evening of March 27, the 28th day of the hunger strike, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee finally visited the protest venue, and urged the protesters to end the hunger strike, promising them that she will look into the matter, and their issues will be resolved. The candidates, yet again, asked her for a written assurance, which she failed to deliver. On March 28, five representatives from the state government met five representatives of the SSC candidates. A committee was formed, and the candidates were given the assurance that their demands will be met by the first week of June.
Mehboob Mondal, one of the protesting candidates told Newsclick, “After a very long discussion with representatives of the state government, we are withdrawing the hunger strike, even though we are not completely satisfied with the steps taken. We are honouring the televised request of the Chief Minister, who urged us to keep faith in her.” He added, “If all the demands mentioned in our 14-point demand charter are not met by the first week of June, we will go on hunger strike again, at the same venue.”
Notable intelligentsia of the state had extended their support to the protesters, and expressed their solidarity. Veteran thespian Soumitra Chatterjee, poetess Mandakranta Sen, and several others have been very vocal about the issues raised by the candidates, and criticised the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government. Students’ Federation of India (SFI), Democratic Youth federation of India (DYFI), and All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) organised rallies in support of the candidates. Several notable leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) visited the protest venue to discuss the issues faced by the candidates.
Jnanpith Awardee poet Shankha Ghosh talked to the protesters on telephone on March 27 and urged them to withdraw their strike for the time being, and added that if their demands are not met on time, he will also join them in their hunger strike.
An SSC candidate told Newsclick on the condition of anonymity, “To be a teacher in West Bengal in the present scenario, you either have to be extremely lucky, or have to have references from the TMC leadership, or have to bribe them. Not everyone has that kind of money or power. Even after clearing the exams and being on the merit list, we were forced to sit under the open sky for 29 days, for the jobs that we already deserve.”
(With inputs from Sandip Chakraborty)