30,000 teachers in India block road to State education minister’s office demanding higher pay

Thousands of teachers of Shishu Shiksha Kendras (SSKs) and Madhyamik Shiksha Kendras (MSKs) (primary and middle educational institutions) in the State of West Bengal have been protesting since March 1. Their honorarium has not been increased for the last seven years

March 09, 2019 by Ditsa Bhattacharya
The staff at the educational institutions mainly attended by children from disadvantaged backgrounds earn only about USD 82 a month.

More than 30,000 teachers employed in Shishu Shiksha Kendras (SSKs) and Madhyamik Shiksha Kendras (MSKs) (primary and middle educational institutions) blocked the road to the office of the education minister of the State of West Bengal in India on March 7. They were demanding that their honorariums be increased. Around 10,000 SSK and MSK teachers have been agitating at Bidhan Nagar, Kolkata since March 1, protesting the current government’s refusal to increase their honorariums for the past seven years. All Bengal Teachers’ Association has extended their support to the protesting SSK and MSK teachers.

The SSKs and MSKs were established by the State government to bring underprivileged children within the ambit of the school education system. They are attended mainly by children from disadvantaged backgrounds. SSKs and MSKs form a substantial part of the total number of educational institutions in several districts of West Bengal.

Talking to Newsclick, Rekha Das Giri, said, “I have been working as an SSK teacher since 2003. Back then, our honorarium was Rs 1,000 (USD 13.8) a month. The Left Front government gradually hiked it to Rs 5,954 (USD 82.69) by 2010. Our dearness allowance was also increased every three years. But the Trinamool Congress government has even stopped paying us the DA.”

Giri said, “We have been working day and night to bring education to underprivileged children. We want our honorarium to be increased to match that of teachers in regular schools, if not more.” West Bengal was ruled by a Left Front government from 1977-2011. The Mamta Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government that came to power in 2011 has unleashed brutal repression on leftist forces in the State.

According to  a report titled Primary Education in West Bengal published in July 2018 by the Pratichi Trust founded by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, the SSK programme faces several problems including paucity of infrastructure and staff. The report said, “There is no reason why the SSKs should not either be upgraded to or placed at par with regular schools in terms of infrastructure and human resources. Besides the lack of infrastructure, the teachers of the SSKs are paid a meager amount as honorarium, that too quite irregularly. They also lack proper training and orientation. This policy neglect, amounting to nothing short of exclusion, has perhaps been exacerbated by the lack of public discussion on this issue.”

Talking to the media about the agitation by SSK and MSK teachers, State education minister Partha Chatterjee said the government was ‘sympathetic’ to their issue, and he would bring the matter to the Chief Minister’s notice. However, there have been no indications of him having done this so far.

After the teachers blocked the road to his office, the education minister was forced to call a team of representatives to his office, where he sought one month’s time to look at the matter. However, the teachers did not agree to that. Finally, the West Bengal governor Keshari Nath Tripathi had to intervene in the matter. He condemned the “inhuman treatment “of SSK and MSK teachers, and gave them a written assurance that their demands would be met within 15 days. Following this, Giri said, “We have withdrawn our protest for the time being, but if our demands are not met within 15 days, we will start protesting again, and this time, we will go on indefinite hunger strike.”

This article first appeared on Newsclick