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Teachers’ Fast-Unto-Death Strike Halted in Bhopal, Hopeful About Current Assembly Session

Scores of qualified teachers had been on a hunger strike in Bhopal, demanding an increase in posts as govt data shows availability.
Caption: The protesting teachers of the primary education dept who despite being qualified, have been protesting for a year to get the job.

The protesting teachers of the primary education dept who despite being qualified, have been protesting for a year to get the job.

For six days starting July 5, 2023, scores of teachers qualified for the primary education department sat on a fast-unto-death strike, after which Congress MLA Sajjan Singh Verma assured them of taking up the issue in the current session of the state Assembly and made them break their fast on the evening of July 10, 2023.

Many students fell sick and had to be hospitalised during the hunger strike. Although the fast-unto-death lasted six days, the protest for these jobs has been ongoing for the past year. Before this, since June 2023, these candidates had been on a relay hunger strike, wherein four of them would stay without food each day. The protest since June has been held outside the State Education Department’s office in Bhopal. 

In 2020, after a nine-year wait, the state introduced vacancies in the Primary education department, the demand for which had been raised for months. However, the advertisement did not mention the total number of posts for which vacancies were being released. “As per the government data, the total number of available posts was around 1,25,000. Hence, we were happy that the government would fill a good number of posts,” said Deepak, one of the protesting candidates, while speaking to NewsClick.

The pandemic eventually led to a delay in the hiring process, and finally, it was resumed in 2022. Around 6 lakh students gave this exam after years of preparation. Around July 2022, the results were declared, and 1,94,000 students were duly qualified for the post. “We were all very happy after seeing the results; we had passed with good marks and were now hoping for our fates to improve,” said another candidate. But little did they know what was coming their way. Sometime later, a roster was released, leading to a protest that has continued for over a year. The roster declared that the govt would be filling only around 18,000 posts for the given vacancy. 

The students raged and started mobilising in their respective districts, demanding an increase in the number of vacancies. 

Rehnuma Sheikh, a double MA-qualified candidate among the lot of 1,94,000, said that the students have protested over 20 times since August 2022 in Bhopal itself. The protests have taken place outside the DM’s office, the education department’s office, and several other places. 

Students claim to have written over a hundred letters from different districts whenever CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan visited their district but never received a single response. The students have even reached out to all the MLAs of the state and still await an answer. 

Their main point of contention is that if over 1,00,000 posts for teachers in primary education are vacant, why the government is taking in only 18,000 despite declaring 1,94,000 students qualified for the jobs. Even among these 18,000 qualified ones, 10,000 are backlog vacancies, meaning the pending ones from the previous lot, the students allege. 

Sheikh hails from the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh. She has been in Bhopal for ten days with her husband. Coming from a lower-middle-class family, Sheikh was always determined to become a teacher. Besides clearing her B.Ed, she holds MA degrees in Sociology and Hindi Literature. She is even qualified for secondary and higher education teaching positions but could not secure a job due to the low number of available vacancies. "In our State, there are 52 districts, and for the higher education job in my subjects, only 50 posts were released. Around a lakh people qualified, so you can imagine the competition and the chances of any candidate being selected," she explained.

Her husband Faizan works as a mechanic, where he has to earn daily to support their family. The couple has two children whom they left at their aunt's place to join the protest. This protest was Rehnuma's well-deserved opportunity to secure a government job. Currently, she has been working as a guest teacher for the past six years, trying her best to land a permanent position. Despite working as much as a permanent teacher and even more, she receives a meagre sum of Rs 7000, equivalent to less than Rs 250 per day.

Rehnuma and her husband have faced considerable backlash from their families for her extensive studies and relentless pursuit of a job. However, they remained determined. She would have guaranteed the job with her qualifications if the government had filled at least half of the pending vacancies. After fasting for six days, she is now fearful for her job as a guest teacher back home. In the past year and a half, the family has travelled hundreds of kilometres, demanding what they rightfully deserve but returning home with feeble assurance from the Opposition.

On July 8th, a video circulated on social media showing the police forcibly taking two female candidates to the hospital, claiming they were sick and needed care. In another incident, the protesting students alleged they were denied access to washrooms in the government office despite their pleas. A female official supposedly instructed the security guards to prevent them from using the washrooms.

The days were challenging, and the nights brought nightmares. From scorching afternoons to heavy rainfall, the candidates endured it all while sitting and sleeping in those tents. One female candidate had joined the protest with her six-month-old baby but had to return home when the child fell ill. Several disabled candidates continue to struggle but have not left the site.

When it came to safety and hygiene, the female protestors suffered the most. "The conditions there were horrible; we slept on the floor amidst insects and dirt," says Mamta, a candidate from Narmadapuram district. She mentions that women protestors often had to travel kilometres to find a public washroom. Even in the worst circumstances, the officials standing in front of them refused to provide water or allow access to the washrooms.

None of the officials have ever responded to their calls. Neither the sitting MLAs of the ruling regime nor the Chief Minister have made any attempt to talk to the students or address the issue. 

Madhya Pradesh remains one of the states that pay the least to Primary Education teachers. 

Despite a year-long protest, the candidates have received no respite while they wait and watch the outcome of the Assembly session.

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