In Bengal, teachers consume poison in bid to prevent transfers to far-flung areas

Run by the panchayat and rural development department, SSKs and MSKs are schools where teaching assistants used to be paid 5400 a month till the state government revised the salary to 10,340 in October last year following a long agitation.
Police personnel deployed at the emergency gate of NRS Hospital where three teachers are admitted. The teachers attempted suicide on Tuesday, in Kolkata. (PTI PHOTO.)
Police personnel deployed at the emergency gate of NRS Hospital where three teachers are admitted. The teachers attempted suicide on Tuesday, in Kolkata. (PTI PHOTO.)
Published on Aug 26, 2021 12:47 AM IST
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“I have been transferred from Bakkhali to Cooch Behar. We cannot live like this. The government has pushed us to this point,” Putul Mondal, a temporary teaching assistant at a Sishu Shiksha Kendra (SSK) in Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district had said, according to her colleagues, before drinking the pesticide she was carrying in a small bottle during Tuesday’s agitation outside Bikash Bhawan, the secretariat of the state school department at Salt Lake in Kolkata’s eastern outskirts.

For Mondal, the transfer meant relocating to a place 746 km away, a distance which, according to Google maps, takes around 18 hours to cover by car.

“Transfer orders, that had asked Mondal and four other teachers working on contract for SSKs and Madhyamik Shiksha Kendras (MSK) to report for duty in districts hundreds of miles away from their homes, led to the mass suicide bid, said Maidul Islam, president of the Paschimbanga Shikshak Aikya Mukta Mancha, which has demanded permanent placement and revocation of the transfer orders.

SSK and MSK teaching assistants working on contractual basis are usually posted in schools what are not too far from their homes, Islam said.

“None of us knew that the five women were carrying poison. What they did was not right,” Islam added.

Run by the panchayat and rural development department, SSKs and MSKs are schools where teaching assistants used to be paid 5400 a month till the state government revised the salary to 10,340 in October last year following a long agitation.

“Along with the revised pay came transfer orders for some of those who were part of the movement,” Islam said. The Mancha earlier moved court and held protests outside the residence of education minister Bratya Basu.

The situation is no different for the other four teachers who, along with Mondal, are now under observation in critical care units at the state-run RG Kar Hospital and NRS Hospital in Kolkata.

Chhobi Chaki Das from Jiaganj in Murshidabad district has been transferred to the Mal community block in Jalpaiguri. The 409 km distance entails an almost 11-hour road trip via NH-12.

“What’s more, Das has been transferred to a Hindi-medium SSK. Similarly, Jyotsna Tudu, a tribal woman teaching at an SSK at Salboni in West Midnapore district, has been transferred to a Hindi-medium school at Dhupguri in Jalpaiguri district,” said one of the agitators who did not want to be named fearing disciplinary action.

Sikha Das from Mahishadal in East Midnapore had been asked to go to Harirampur in South Dinajpur district and Anima Nath from Balagarh in Hooghly district has been asked to report to a Madrasah in Malda district, 314 km away. Both attempted to commit suicide.

The incident, being the first of its kind in Bengal, has triggered a slugfest between the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“During the Left Front regime, teaching assistants at SSKs and MSKs used to get a token honorarium. They had no job security and post-retirement benefit. The government has now introduced provident fund scheme for those who opt to retire at 60. Women get maternity leave and all are entitled to healthcare benefits and 18 casual leaves a year. Those who are agitating even after getting all these must be BJP cadres,” the education minister tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.

BJP state general secretary Sayantan Basu visited NRS Hospital to check on the teachers during the day.

“Even if a TMC worker’s home is damaged by a falling tree the ruling party will accuse the BJP. The accusation does not surprise us. We don’t support this suicide attempt. It cannot be a mode of protest. The education minister should spend more time meeting teachers and hearing out their problems instead of visiting Tripura. He should resign after what has happened,” said Basu.

Doctors at both hospitals said the women were stable but could not be declared to be out of danger before 72 hours. They showed symptoms triggered by organophosphorus compounds used in pesticides.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (eastern suburban division) Priyabrata Roy said, “Police personnel tried their best to stop the agitators from consuming poison. We hope they get well soon.”

Cases have been registered against the teachers since attempting suicide is a crime. Charges have also been brought against the agitators for violating Covid-19 pandemic restrictions on assembly in a public place.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021