A section of the teaching community in Assam has prefixed their names with “driver” on Twitter and Facebook and updated status messages that read “I am also a Driver” in reaction to a statement by Assam Education Minister Siddhartha Bhattacharya on an All India Radio programme on June 13. The state-wide teachers’ protest, which was initially just virtual, will on Tuesday take the form of a gathering in front of the Deputy Commissioner’s office to voice their long-standing demands.
On June 13, taking a live question from a teacher in Barpeta on an AIR program, Bhattacharya compared the renewal of teacher eligibility test (TET) certificates to the mandatory renewal of driving licences. Those who have qualified the TET (the first general TET exam was held in 2012 in Assam) are eligible to seek employment at government-backed primary schools in the state.
However, a TET certificate lapses in seven years, which basically means that if the candidate has not been able to procure a job in that period, he/she will have to sit for the TET exam again. This puts nearly 40,000 TET-qualified teachers in the lurch because while they have passed the exam, and have jobs, they have not been regularised by the government.
On June 13, the teacher from Barpeta voiced this concern: will teachers have to sit for the exam again despite having contractual jobs? Bhattacharya replied that they would and gave the example of how drivers have to renew their license when they expire.
The comment has angered the TET-qualified teaching community: the immediate reaction was first seen on social media, wherein the last four days, approximately 40,000 teachers, inspired BJP’s pre-poll ‘I am also a Chowkidar’ campaign, have prefixed their names with “driver”.
“We already have jobs — it is not our fault that the government has not regularised them, despite there being vacant posts. So why should we sit for the exam to prove again that we are qualified to be teachers?” says Probin Prasad, a teacher from Karbi Anglong, “We have all the criteria to be eligible for regularisation.”
Kalita is one among the thousands who ha prefixed their social media handles with “Driver”.
“This is not out of disrespect for drivers in any way. But the comparison makes no sense. Do we have to sit for a driving test at the DTO every time we renew our driving licenses?” asks Mirajul Rasid, general secretary, Sodou Axom TET Uttirna Sikshak Samaj, that represents TET-qualified teachers. “Our social media campaign is not derogatory but actually a mark of respect to drivers — us teachers are drivers of schools, of educating children, just like Sarbananda Sonowal is the driver of Assam.”
Adds Rasid, “Ahead of the state Assembly elections in 2016, the BJP, in their manifesto or Vision Document stated that they will regularise the jobs of contractual TET teachers. It is on page 20. We all have read it. But when someone mentioned this to Minister Bhattacharya on the AIR program, he said the word ‘contractual’ was never mentioned. Either he is lying or he has no knowledge.”
On Tuesday, the teachers will submit a memorandum to the CM with the basic demand of regularisation of jobs with pay protection. On June 29, they are planning to hold a large protest in Dispur if no action is taken. “We don’t get our salaries on time. Today is June 18 and I still have not received my salary for the month of May,” says Pankaj Das, a teacher from Tezpur, “Also, our salary is just 20,000 — which reduces to 19,820 in-hand. How can a teacher survive with this salary, support his family and travel some 300km for his job? Many of us are posted 400km from home. But despite all this we never slack off on our duties: if it’s training work, or NRC work or election work — we do it all.”
The first general TET exam was held in 2012. While specific subject-area TET exams have been held subsequently, the next general TET exam is scheduled for September this year. “In the first exam, 15 per cent cleared it and were given contractual jobs on a merit-basis, with the promise that their jobs will be regularised eventually. But no such thing has happened,” says Rasid.