Congress Legislature Party leader Sunil Jakhar on Saturday visited the modern jail here to express concern over the detention of about 150 teachers employed under the centre-sponsored scheme (CSS).
He was accompanied by former Faridkot MLA and state Congress general secretary Kushaldeep Singh Dhillon, Jaitu MLA Joginder Singh and District Congress Committee chief Surinder Gupta.
Around 150 teachers were arrested from Bathinda district on May 1 and 5 on various charges while they were protesting in order to demand the release of their salaries for the past 13 months which, they claim, have not been paid.
But the jail officials did not allow Jakhar to meet the teachers who have been in jail for over two weeks, saying the jail manual did not allow this.
Addressing the media on the jail premises, Jakhar said, "On the one hand, the SAD-BJP alliance goes to the President to seek clemency or remission of punishment to militants, and on the other, they have arrested the teachers, including women, who had been protesting peacefully to demand their salaries. Everybody has a democratic right to protest, but the government has put them behind bars, that too under inhuman conditions."
He said, "I have learnt that some of the women teachers who are in jail have small children. Some of them are being brought to the jail twice a day to be fed. It is for the first time that an elected government in Punjab is doing this. We are not being allowed to meet them saying there are instructions from above not to allow us to meet them."
Jakhar said, "I ask the government if the teachers are terrorists whom they have thrown into the jail. Can't they demand their salaries which have not been paid for the past 13 months?"
Jakhar demanded that the detained teachers be released from the jail immediately and the charges against them dropped. "The teachers have been working for the past 13 months without any salary in various government schools and it is their democratic right to protest in favour of their demands. The government should not curb anyone's democratic right. Arresting the teachers who were protesting in a democratic way is against the norms."
Jakhar also spoke about the pre-poll violence that took place in Bathinda and Amritsar districts. "It is a murder of democracy. The government should rather stop holding the elections and start working like a dictator," he said. The SAD-BJP regime is insensitive to public issues and people are being terrorised," he added.
"If the state government continues to behave like this, how are we different from our neighbouring country," wondered Jakhar.
Dhillon also expressed his concern at the incidents of violence.
"This is the worst situation of the pre-poll violence in the state. It is a murder of democracy and terrorising the people in this way is condemnable," said Sukhwinder Singh Danny, president, state Youth Congress, who also visited the Faridkot jail on Saturday."
Meanwhile, Capt Balkar Singh from Mukerian said, "My daughter, Rekha, has been in jail for the past 18 days. She has a two-year-old son, who is with us. The teachers' fault is that they have been demanding their salaries."
"Some of the protesters were not allowed even to reach the venue of the protest and were booked on baseless charges," claimed Gagandeep Singh, whose wife Harpreet Kaur is in jail. Gagandeep said they had been married for about five months.