The indefinite agitation by para-teachers of West Bengal, which had started on November 11, entered its eighteenth day today. More than 37 para-teachers have been on an indefinite hunger strike since the evening of November 15, and several of them have been hospitalised in critical condition after 13 days of fasting. Para Teachers’ Aikya Manch, the organisation spearheading the movement have said that the hunger strike will go on until the state government is forced to meet their demands. The para-teachers have also been boycotting schools since November 18.
Talking to NewsClick, Madhumita Banerjee, a leader of the movement, said, “Mohammad Majid, a para teacher who was a part of our agitation, passed away from cancer on Wednesday, unable to afford treatment on his meagre salary. This is not the first time this has happened. In the last few years, several para-teachers have succumbed to illnesses because they could not afford treatment. We do not get any medical allowances either, despite our meagre salary.”
She added, “We don’t know how many more lives have to be lost before the state government pays any attention to our struggles. We do not understand how the state government can be so inhuman, and completely ignore our plight. Despite everything that has happened, no one from the government has visited our protest site, or even called us for discussions.” She said that even though the state government continues to remain indifferent to their issues, people of the state, the civil society, and notable poets and writers have all expressed their solidarity with the movement, which has provided them the strength to continue fighting. Poet Sankha Ghosh, author Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay have urged the state government to address the demands raised by the para-teachers.
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State Education Minister Partha Chatterjee, when asked by the press whether he plans to visit the protest site or not said, “Why should I go there? I did not ask them to go on hunger strike. They started the protest, they will figure out when to stop. They should understand that the government has done enough for them.” He also claimed that the demands raised by the para-teachers are meaningless and they are disrupting the education of the students of government schools by boycotting the schools and continuing their agitation. This statement was made at a press conference on November 27.
This statement made by the education minister has angered the protesting teachers even more. Earlier, the minister had said that they are making a mistake by going on a hunger strike. The para teachers teaching lower-primary classes and upper-primary classes receive a consolidated amount of Rs 10,000 and Rs 13,000 per month respectively. Talking to NewsClick, Kamalesh Singha, one of the protesting teachers said, “Lower-primary and upper-primary teachers are supposed to receive Rs 25,000 and Rs 33,000 per month respectively, but we do not get that amount. This is why we are not demanding a hike in salary, we are demanding a defined pay structure.”
The protesting para-teachers have 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. Banerjee 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. Education Minister Partha Chatterjee denied this allegation on November 27, saying that the para teachers have to prove that the state government is receiving money from the Centre.
The teachers sitting on hunger strike have announced that they will donate their bodies after they fast to death. Banerjee said, “We have been spending our days and nights on the streets for eighteen days now. We have been fasting for fourteen days. And we have decided that even dying is better than spending our lives like this, as we are barely able to survive on our salaries, and the state government in indifferent to our plight.”
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