An indefinite dharna by a united forum of 'para teachers' of West Bengal, which started on the 11th of November, entered its eight-day on Tuesday. They are protesting against the West Bengal Education Department's policies of equal pay in comparison to permanent teachers in the state. About 35 teachers are also witnessing an indefinite 'hunger strike', along with the dharna from November 14. 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 demanding that the government introduce pay bands for their salaries, and promote them to the pay scale of assistant teachers.
"We are facing this indifference for ages now. We work the same. Why this indifference? Why this inequality? The pay difference between ours and permanent teachers is huge. Massive", said Madhumita Banerjee, joint convenor of the united forum or Aikya Mancha.
Para teachers are non-permanent teachers of the West Bengal Education Ministry who were appointed between 2007 and 2009 before the implementation of the RTE (Right to education act), which mandated that all children aged between six and 14 would be covered under the school education system. The government implemented the Act in 2013 but had started recruiting schoolteachers a few years earlier when it expected a surge in the number of students. The number of students in primary (classes I to V) and in upper primary (classes VI to VIII) increased with the inclusion of more students in state-aided schools in keeping with the RTE act.
Para teachers were appointed to maintain the teacher-student ratio. They were offered around Rs 5,000 for teaching at the primary level and Rs 8,000 at the upper primary level. After the implementation of the RTE Act, the government claimed the target of bringing children aged between six and 14 under the school education system had been fulfilled. Para teachers continued to work as full-time teachers in schools. Their salaries were gradually raised to Rs 10,000 at the primary and Rs 13,000 at the upper primary levels. A full-time teacher starts on a salary of Rs 24,000 at the primary level and Rs 34,000 at the upper primary level.
"In August, the West Bengal police had attacked the teachers when they had organised a protest demonstration. Several protesters had been gravely injured in front of Bikash Bhawan. When we tried to hold a rally in Kalyani, police bashed us. Male policemen molested female protesters. We moved the High Court demanding our legal right to protest and High Court gave this right to protest or Govt would not let us do this", lamented the joint convenor who is a para teacher herself. Although on an indefinite peaceful protest and hunger strike, the teachers look forward to meeting Partha Chatterjee and solve it out.