Tripura teachers to fight for their right to protest

More than 10,000 teachers have been sitting on an indefinite strike since December 2020.

Credit : The Indian Express

On February 15th, the Joint Movement Committee of 10,323 terminated Tripura teachers will be holding a demonstration in state capital Agartala to protest the brutal police attack they faced during the sit-in protest on January 27th. The Tripura High Court had served notice to the BJP-led State Government on Thursday for not allowing these teachers to hold a democratic protest after the teachers had filed a writ petition. More than 10,000 teachers have been sitting on an indefinite strike since December 2020 after the Tripura Government scrapped their jobs in 2014, and made them work as ad-hoc government employees for three more years despite promising a retirement.

In 2010, 10,323 teachers were inducted in different phases to teach students of graduate, undergraduate and postgraduate courses. However, citing irregularities in the recruitment process, the Tripura High Court had scrapped these appointments in 2014, making the teachers jobless. “The Supreme Court had upheld the high court order in 2017, and the teachers were supposed to retire by December 31st, 2017. But the apex court anyway kept them on an ad-hoc basis, and in November last year, a one-time final extension was granted to them until March 31st, 2020,” said Shubham Soumitra, a social activist from Agartala. He further stated that 8,882 teachers out of the 10,323 were left with ad-hoc jobs, but when the pandemic struck last year, everyone has faced “a huge financial loss” with the job insecurity.

When the teachers met Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb in September 2020, he had assured them of providing them with a definite resolution – just like his party did earlier too during the 2017-18 Tripura elections. However, upon receiving no proper solution from the State Government, the teachers decided to go on an indefinite strike. In December 2020, one of the protest leaders, Dalia Das, was quoted saying, “We did not get any response, since the CM assured us of giving a permanent solution. We are without our jobs since the last nine months and are facing difficulties to meet our domestic expenses. So, we are protesting for an indefinite period, until we are given permanent jobs.”

Soon after, the teachers formed three different organisations – Justice for 10323, Amra 10323 and All Tripura Ad Hoc Teachers’ Association. The three organisations have been observing a silent protest since December 7th, 2020. But when the protest didn’t yield any reaction from the administration, the teachers decided to march towards the Residential Office of the CM on the 52nd day of the protest, which is January 27th.

“Maybe they didn’t want the protest to grow, but it was on January 27th that the police decided to pay attention to the teachers. They called the peaceful protest undemocratic. They lathi-charged the silently protesting teachers, which is nothing but heartbreaking. They even pulled apart the makeshift tents while the teachers were still sleeping in them. Section 144 was imposed for a day which enabled the police to use lathi charge, water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters,” said social activist and daughter of one of these teachers, Amoni Das, in a conversation with Indie Journal.

After imposing section 144 at 5:30 am, the teachers were given only five minutes to vacate the protest site. Amoni says that this was a very unreasonable order as five minutes is a very short time. “They immediately started dismantling camps and detaining the teachers after five minutes. It seems like their motive was not to vacate the protest site, but to detain the teachers,” Amoni adds. 

According to ground reports from Tripura, 200 teachers were detained, over 100 were injured and more than 70 teachers had to be hospitalised. Moreover, more than 80 teachers had already died due to external conditions like extreme weather, reports say. Dalia Das was reported saying, “January 27th was a black chapter in the history of Tripura. This is the most shameful and barbaric incident. Teachers were whisked away by the police, their clothes were torn, food and other donations given to us at our protest venue were looted. The police acted like goons.”

Since the police denied the teachers permission to protest peacefully and even attacked them brutally during the silent protest, the teachers approached lawyer Purushottam Roy Burman, who helped them file the writ petition in the high court, 12 days after the brutal police attack. The teachers have also filed a petition with the Tripura Human Rights Commission seeking redressal. “Instead of focusing on the teachers’ entitlement to these jobs for now, since there is no court verdict on it, we need to focus on the police’s response to the peaceful protest, which is a fundamental right of the citizens. Moreover, these protests were constitutional and only a means of seeking redressal from the government, especially after there was no proper response from the CMO. The government and media should stop trying to paint these teachers as terrorists who just want to secure their rightful livelihood,” Soumitra said.