‘Will Continue Protest Till Our Voices are Heard’
31-year-old Sujata Rani Ghorai travels from Chandipur in East Midnapore to Kolkata, a distance of about 120 kilometers, five days a week to participate in the sit-in dharna of prospective school teachers at the base of Gandhi statue at Mayo Road intersection in central Kolkata. She spends 14 hours a day in travel and dharna and spends about Rs 300 daily in the hope of carrying her voice to the power corridors of Bengal for what, she thinks, is a legitimate job demand.
Sujata was spotted with hundreds of other candidate teachers sharing a similar plight at Mayo Road on Teachers Day. The dharna completed an unbelievable 540 days on Monday and Ghorai, who cleared the SLST Exams, 2016 in Philosophy in classes XI-XII and is ranked 38 in Female (SC) Waiting category, sounded resolute.
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“I will continue to be a part of this protest demonstration till our voices are heard. I know of failed candidates, candidates who submitted blank papers, and even those who were ranked far below me already recruited by the Bengal School Service Commission. They have to be identified and chucked out. Those like us on the list should be fairly given recruitment. And fast,” she said.
Sujata’s father worked in a brick kiln to save up for her daughter’s education. At 73, he is ailing and can no longer fend for the family. “I have foregone the opportunity to do tuitions on weekdays because I have to travel to this dharna. I earn from tuition that I give during weekends. That’s hardly enough to sustain my family. A teacher of mine gave me a loan to finish my B.Ed course. I can’t even return that money. My parents’ dream of seeing me as a teacher is shattered by this corruption,” said Sujata, tears welling up in her eyes.
‘Couldn’t Give Best Treatment to My Father Due to Lack of Job’
The story of Shukla Deb, who regularly travels from Dinhata, Cooch Behar in North Bengal to participate in the teacher recruitment corruption protest, is no different. Shukla cleared the SLST in 2018 in Political Science and was ranked 43 in the General Female category. Recently married, Shukla is yet to get a job while having to sustain a dependent mother and younger sister.
“My father passed away during the 3rd phase of Covid in August 2021. Doctors referred him to a hospital in Siliguri. I did not have the means to hire an ambulance to travel that far. I could not give him the best treatment he deserved which I could have done if I had a job,” Sujata said, tears dripping from her eyes.
With the prospective teachers demanding recruitment before the Durga Puja in October, Shukla held a poster which read: “Wish to Spend This Puja with Family”.
‘We can’t sustain unemployment any longer. We are desperate’
Sahanur Reja from Dewanhat in Cooch Behar cleared SLST in 2016 and was ranked 177 in Bangla in OBC (Male-Female) category. He alleged: “The recruitments happened for the first 108 candidates on the merit list. Then, to my utter dismay, there was a jump and a candidate ranked 194 was given recruitment while the rest of us were left in the lurch.”
With elderly parents to support back home, Sahanur opposed Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s statement that petitions in High Court was keeping her from making fresh recruitments. “There is no freeze on recruitments from High Court. Didi should see we can’t sustain unemployment any longer. We are desperate,” he sounded exasperated.
‘My Family is on hand to mouth’
For Palash Mondal, ranked 219 in English subject in Male-Female Category from SLST, 2016, that time has nearly run out. Palash is temporarily residing in the Sonarpur area in South 24 Parganas while his family stays at Gosaba in the remote Sunderbans delta in the same district. “My family is now on hand-to-mouth existence with the little bit of agricultural activity my parents are capable of doing at their age. Many candidates outside the panel have got jobs and I can’t wait much longer. The netas are assuring me that things will get sorted out soon, but I see no light at the end of the tunnel,” said Palash who has been regularly visiting the dharna site for the past three years.
“We don’t even know the extent of recruitment corruption that has taken place… Whether it is 10 people per list who have been irregularly given appointments, or 100,” Sangita Nag, an agitating candidate from Basirhat in North 24 Parganas, chipped in.
Seen expressing solidarity with the protesting candidate teachers on Teachers Day, BJP leader and actor Rudraneel Ghosh said: “Our Chief Minister isn’t keen to stand with these teachers in pain. These are the teachers who would bd the future of this state. Instead, she is vouching for those who illegally secured recruitments by indulging in corruption. The people are watching and they will respond in due time.”
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