They climbed on water tanks, on mobile towers and even on high tension electricity towers and held rallies. They were unemployed linemen, teachers, ASHA workers, and others from across Punjab, and over the last six weeks, they had turned this high-profile constituency, from where deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal won by the highest margin in 2012, into the state’s protest capital.
On Wednesday, when elections were announced, the protestors resigned themselves to the reality that there was no chance of their demands being met before the election, and most of them climbed down from their perches.
In Ladhuwala village, young men trained by the police for recuitment but left without jobs were perusaded to climb down in the afternoon by Aam Aadmi Party workers. “They told us the code of conduct has been implemented our demand will not be met now. They said they will give us jobs when they form the government,” said a protester.
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They had been trained by police in 2008. They came from Muktsar, Bathinda, Karnal, Sirsa while some were from Jalalabad. On Tuesday, they were lathicharged when some of them blocked the Ferozepur–Fazilka National Highway, and 32 arrested for protesting on the main road. Among them was Balwinder Singh from Patiala, state president of the union they have formed. They are all in Fazilka jail.
Unemployed physical education teachers are another group of protesters. Gurlal Singh Bhola, state president of their union, said, “The Punjab government had advertised 646 jobs for PE teachers six years back. The recruitment was on the basis of merit, but the government introduced an entrance exam all of a sudden, against which we got a stay order from the court. But the government put a stay on recruitments.”
Three protesters climbed a water tank near Government Girls Senior Secondary School in Jalalabad four days ago. They came down Wednesday afternoon after CPI candidate Surinder Singh asked them to. “Now that the code of conduct has been implemented, it is better that they protest in the constituency rather than on the water tank. And they have agreed to this,” said Surinder.
On December 30, four unemployed linemen had climbed on a 132kVA tower and remained their till January 2.
“Four thousand unemployed linemen have been seeking jobs for the last seven years. Government had advertised for 5,000 posts but recruited only 1,000. We will continue protests even during the election campaign,” said Paramjeet Singh, a union member. He had come from Amritsar.
Pirmal Singh, president of the unemployed linemen union, is now an AAP candidate from Bhadaur.
Some protests ended earlier. On December 1, 40 unemployed elementary trained teachers who had cleared the teacher eligibility test (TET) had climbed 15 water tanks in Jalalabad’s villages. All of them were from the TET Pass Unemployed Union. “Four had even climbed a mobile tower in Jalalabad town. Our demand was jobs which we had not got despite clearing TET three years ago. They came down on December 24 after we were given appointment letters,” said Amarjeet Kamboj, president of this union.
On December 4, a state level rally was organised by SSA-RMSA teachers seeking regularisation of their jobs. Nearly 12,000 such teachers are on contract with the education department. They had organised another rally at Mohali as well two days earlier.
AAP’s Jalalabad candidate Bhagwant Mann was campaigning in the villages, and among the protesters. Mann told The Indian Express, “Only a month is left. Once AAP comes to power, we will listen to all these protesting unions and fulfil their demands. All they need to do is tolerate a little bit more.”
During his regular visits here, Sukhbir did not meet any of the protesting unions. His one meeting with physical education teachers at Chandigarh yielded nothing for the protesters.
DSP (Jalalabad) Harjinder Singh Gill, when contacted, said, “Over 100 policemen were on their toes at water tanks of this constituency in December. But all have come down by today afternoon after the code of conduct was enforced. We have lodged FIRs against a few who blocked the National Highway and they have been arrested. No one can be allowed to take law in their hands.”