Government refuses to accept demands; agitation growing by the day; House debates issue

The ongoing teachers’ strike in Chhattisgarh is snowballing into a major concern for the government as well as the local intelligence. While the teachers are refusing to go back to work till their basic demands are met, the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) has supported the strike. The strike, already in its second week, is growing by the day and the agitators are using newer methods, such as tonsuring each other’s heads, to embarrass the government while the Assembly is debating their demands. The government has, however, categorically refused to meet the demands.

The agitating teachers, employed after 1998, are demanding employment under the Education and Tribal Departments, rather than under the panchayat, and a substantial hike in salary. These teachers are appointed by the gram panchayat or the Municipal Corporation in order to strengthen the Panchayati Raj system. The panchayat teachers, about 1,50,000 in number, are paid a starting salary of Rs. 8,500 a month. They have not been working since December 3. “The teachers employed by the education department have a starting salary of close to Rs. 20,000. We should be given the same [salary] and allowed to work under the Education Ministry, rather than the panchayat,” said Sanjay Sharma, main coordinator of the Teacher Sangharsh Samiti, an umbrella organisation of nine panchayat teachers’ associations.

Turns Tahrir Square

Sapre School Ground in central Raipur has turned into the ‘Tahrir Square’ for Chhattisgarh’s teachers. More than 50,000 teachers and their families, including one-year-old children, are spending days and nights on the ground. Some have plastic sheets for shade, while some are sheltered under makeshift tents. Aggressive slogans are raised taking a clear dig at Chief Minister Raman Singh and his administration

“The reason is simple,” said Sebak Ram of Baloda Bazar, while playing with his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, “we have been seriously demeaned by this government. Our salary is less than what the peons get and we report to the panchayat department despite being full-scale teachers.”

But what is worrying a section of the administration more than the teachers’ demands is the armed CPI (Maoist)’s solidarity with the teachers’ movement. On Saturday, a bandh called by the CPI (Maoist) was observed in Narainpur district supporting the teacher’s demands. A couple of days ago, local newspapers reported that teachers were shouting ‘Lal Salam’ – the Red Salute – and ‘threatening’ to take up arms on the ground if their demands were ignored.

Red slogans

A Raipur-based intelligence official said: “This is nonsense, have you heard anything like that?” On Saturday afternoon, while no one shouted ‘Lal Salam,’ most of the speakers were closing their speeches with Inquilab Zindabad (Long Live the Revolution). Police officials refused to comment if such frequent use of a phrase, which hailed revolution, could provoke unrest in a State that was substantially controlled by an armed communist party strongly advocating revolution.

The government, however, has clearly refused to acknowledge the demands of the teachers. At a meeting between the Education and Panchayat Minister and the association, teachers were told that their demands were “unreasonable.”