Lok Sabha elections are about 20 days away and political parties, including the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), have hit the streets busy campaigning, while in the heart of the city, around 450 youngsters are sitting on a relay hunger strike since February 28.
These youngsters were qualified for the post of assistant teachers and their names are on the waiting list of the School Service Commission (SSC) that notified the vacancies in 2016, conducted the selection test in 2017 and published the results in March 2018. They are on an indefinite strike in front of the Press Club, Dharmatala, Kolkata, demanding immediate filling of vacancies in state schools.
Hopes fade away with delay in SSC appointments
There is no clarity on the number of teaching vacancies in government schools in West Bengal. Job aspirants who have qualified for the posts are alleging non-transparency in the merit list prepared by the School Service Commission. The abnormal delay has raised suspicion in the mind of these aspirants and they are worried about their future. Several candidates say allege “backdoor appointments” by the Commission. Many of them have given up hopes and taken up low-paying jobs in the private sector while a few have initiated legal action.
In the election season, these job aspirants don’t feel any political party would make a difference in their lives. A change of guard in the state or country is irrelevant unless there are jobs for youths, they say.
“It’s been years that I have been waiting for the appointment order. We are considering the option of boycotting the election,” said Himangshu Makur, son of a farmer. The sole breadwinner of his family after his father’s demise, Himangshu is married and has an infant daughter. He has been earning a living by giving private tuitions.
Himangshu who is MA in English honors from Bankura, his home district, had high hopes after his name appeared on the SSC waiting list but now he has lost all hopes and joined the hunger strike like others.
Tired of the apathy and delay over years, some of them are doing private jobs. An employee of a private firm, a woman who did not want to reveal her identity, has taken leave to take part in the strike. She says that despite several vacant seats, she is still waiting for an appointment order.
“It’s not just about a government job it’s about a corrupt system. Why can’t merit list be published with the marks scored by the candidates? There is no transparency and original gazette notification has been violated. No one knows the exact number of vacancies and what was the score of the person who got the job or how many more will be appointed from the waiting list,” she said.
“There is no reason for us to vote and give someone such power to rule when they can’t even assure us a job for which we are qualified,” she added.
Sheikh Insan Ali, president of SSC Youth Students’ Rights, which is organising the protests, appeared for the exam in 2017.
“Thousands of seats are lying vacant across schools in the state. But we are jobless despite the fact that our names are in the waiting list. Out of the 18,000 vacancies, 12,000 have been empanelled while 6,000 are on waiting list,” said Ali.
Anita Biswas, another aspirant from Hooghly district, feels political leaders are concerned about the people only when elections near. She also alleged that the SSC violated norms, pushing many deserving candidates to the waitlist.
“We are dying, do they care? Our names are on waiting list and there are vacancies also but they are not filling them. Why should we vote if they can’t give us what we deserve,” said Anita.
The protesters claimed that a woman from North 24 Parganas district who was two months pregnant suffered a miscarriage during the hunger strike. However, the claim could not be verified. They said more than 40 aspirants took ill till date since February 28.
The protesters met West Bengal Education Minister Partha Chatterjee on March 2. “I listened to what they said. They need not be worried. Those qualified will certainly be called for interview in due course of time,” said Chatterjee. The Minister has also sought a detailed report from the West Bengal School Service Commission.
Earlier, the Minister said the government would do everything possible for the job aspirants and that they should call off the strike. He said the delay was due to some legal issues pending with the High Court.