Kolkata: Thirty-four years old, Kudrat e Kabir travels 10 hours every week to reach Kolkata to participate in the ongoing sit-in protest for almost three years now., demanding justice for the State Level Selection Test (SLST)2016 qualified teachers.
A Master in Mathematics (MSc) and Bachelor in Education (BEd) degree holder, Kabir qualified for all three SLST 2016 examinations, conducted by the School Service– Commission (SSC)—Upper Primary, High School and Higher Secondary. The result came in 2018, but even after 6 years, Kabir has not a single job in hand and he sits on Mayo Road, five days a week from 10 am to 5 pm under Gandhi Statue.
This sit-in marks the third phase of protests
Before the sit-in, which is 1065 days now, there were earlier two protests– 186 days before the Covid lockdown and 28 days of hunger strikes by the same group.
The teachers who had qualified for High School were almost 6000 in numbers. In 2018, when they first did hunger agitation, Kabir along with many others developed issues related to the liver.
“We have been preparing for SLST 2016 since 2013. And till now, we have spent a decade in this job, our prime age as far as preparing for another exam is concerned and healthwise. It is also delaying our marriage. Who will marry a man, without a job,” a frustrated Kabir tells eNewsroom.
If Kabir has qualified for all three examinations, Sangita Nag (31), from North 24 Pargana cleared Upper Primary and High School examinations. “I am the only child of my family. Both my parents are 70 plus but I could not stay with them and come here to participate in the dharna,” informed Nag.
Impact of long protest on the protestoer’s health
The protesters come from almost every district of Bengal and faraway places like Cooch Behar, Siliguri, Jalpaiguri, Malda, Birbhum.
“While holding hunger strike, one female participant, Mithu Mondal died after cardiac arrest. Another had a miscarriage. Her life never got normal after the incident. One Rothin Roy was admitted to the hospital in January this year. He has been told by the doctors that his survival chances are not good. During the protest, a married Rashmoni Patro shaved her head. Since then society has looked at her indifferently. She has a 7-year-old son, but she could not spend time with him.” Nag rued. The last wish of Nag’s parents is to see her get a job and get married.
Most of the protesters are above 30, their parents are in their seventies.
“My situation is still better as my father is a retired government employee. The financial condition of Sujata Gorai (another female protester), is very bad. She comes from an extremely poor background. Her mother died during the protest and her father is alive to see her get a job and get married,” said Sangita.
“Because of the long protest, everyone is having one or another health-related issue. There is no drinking water at the site. There is a problem with urination as well. We had requested the municipal corporation to provide us drinking water and a bio-toilet,, but it was not provided,” the aspiring teacher ruled.
Significantly, in the nearby Red Road, where political parties hold events they get all these easily.
Listen to the protesters
SLST 2016 corruption, a unique scam in Indian history
West Bengal is the only state in the country which has a School Service Commission. And only second in the country as here there are 4.74 lakhs teachers (source UDISE+ 2021-22) in all the three categories in government schools.
“Like the youth of Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan prepare themselves for becoming Armymen, and students of Bihar prepare for becoming IAS-IPS, in Bengal students prepare for government teacher jobs,” said Kabir.
After SLST 2016 , no teaching job-related examination has been conducted in the state.
When the 6000-something qualified teachers began the protest, it was for some violations of rules and the appointment of a minister’s daughter Ankita Adhikari, who had not qualified but her name appeared on the merit list.
“On the 28th day of our hunger strike, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and then Education Minister Partha Chatterjee came to meet us, in 2019. Mamata Banerjee assured us that our issues would be resolved and we would be getting the jobs as soon as the Model Code of Conduct for Lok Sabha gets over. She also formed a committee, comprising five people from school administrative officials including the education minister and five from our side,” Nag mentioned.
She continued, “When the election got over and after some months passed, we did not get any information about our jobs, we tried to find out what happened. We were shocked to know that not only five members of our team got jobs, but on their recommendations their relatives, their district’s candidates and hundreds of others, who had not qualified, were given jobs.
“We knocked on the doors of Calcutta High Court. By then thousands of petitions from across Bengal had already been filed in the court. Justice Abhijeet Ganguly ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into the corruption. At least three CBI probes were ordered to investigate the SLST 2016 corruption case.
Later, CBI arrested then-education minister Partha Chatterjee.
Nag added, “When Mamata Banerjee had come to meet us, she had admitted before the media that there is corruption, and that after the election, the issue will be resolved. But even after the formation of a committee by her, the corruption increased.”
A protester Ajoy Mondal said, “There is a hearing on Monday at Calcutta High Court and we want the Advocate General (AG) to file an affidavit for us. The government should clear its stand on us getting job, while CBI can continue its action against those who are involved in the corruption.”
From ruling to all other party leaders met the protesters
Over the course of these 1065 days, leaders of all political parties, be it ruling TMC, CPM or BJP, all met the protesters.
“All came and assured us, but we did not get a job yet. However, our fight will continue till we get the job. We will not let it go, whatever happens,” Kabir resolved.
Hope that the authorities are listening to Kabir.