A young boy, four or five years old, sits beside his mother holding a placard that says, “Please save my mother”. His mother is one of the 34 para-teachers in West Bengal, who started an indefinite hunger strike on the evening of November 15. The protest that started on November 11 has entered its sixth day now, but the teachers are yet to receive any response, let alone an assurance, from state Education Minister Partha Chatterjee.
When the West Bengal government’s education department failed to even meet the protesting teachers during the first five days of their protest, the teachers said they were left with no option but to go on an indefinite hunger strike.
Talking to NewsClick, Shanti Banerjee, one of the protesting teachers said, “Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee will have the blood of the para-teachers on her hands. The people of West Bengal are with us. We have been forced to keep our lives on the line to make them hear our demands. This movement will only continue and grow bigger and stronger.”
Thousands of para-teachers from all corners of West Bengal have been protesting under the banner of Para Teachers’ Aikya Mancha in front of Bikash Bhavan, Chatterjee’s Salt Lake office for six days now, demanding that the government introduce pay bands for their salaries, and promote them to the pay scale of assistant teachers.
The para-teachers receive a consolidated pay as of now, and none of the benefits that are provided to regular teachers. If the pay band is introduced for para-teachers, they will be entitled to benefits like regular increments, dearness allowance, medical allowance, and child care leaves.
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Talking to NewsClick, Madhumita Banerjee, a leader of the movement said, “More than 100 para teachers have died in the last two years. Some died of illness, because they could not afford treatment on their meagre salaries, some committed suicide because they could not support their families. However, the state government is yet to bat an eyelid.”
She added, “We have been sitting on the streets for six days now. Our hunger strike has already completed 24 hours. This proves that neither the chief minister nor the education minister cares about our lives. But we are not ready to give up.”
Another para-teacher, Tanushree Saha, told NewsClick, “We have been responsibly fulfilling our duties for more than 15 years now. But still, our lives do not matter to the undemocratic TMC government in the state. We teachers prepare the children for the future, and still have no importance in this state. We are not asking for anything unrealistic; we just want equal pay for equal work.”
She added, “Education Minister Partha Chatterjee recently said on television that West Bengal police has never attacked teachers. Where was he when the police brutally attacked and manhandled the us on the night of August 16? Either he is pretending that he does not remember, or he does not even count us as teachers. I do not know which is worse.”
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In August, the West Bengal police had brutally attacked the teachers when they had organised a protest demonstration. Several protesters had been gravely injured, following which the para-teachers had moved the High Court demanding their legal right to protest.
The protesting teachers have said that they will fast to death unless the government agrees to their demands and gives them what they rightfully deserve.