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PREDICTABLY the authoritarian Trinamool Congress government came down heavily on working and retired state government employees as well as school teachers when they tried to peacefully march towards the West Bengal Legislative Assembly on November 23 demanding payment of pending 35 per cent Dearness Allowance (DA) arrears. Many of them were lathi-charged and received blows from the police and bled. The most shameful was the fact that the police personnel, especially the ‘civic’ (casual or ad hoc appointee) police, did not spare even women and aged pensioners. Many were thrown behind bars in the central police lockup at Lalbazar, the Kolkata Police Headquarters, and were detained overnight in police custody. A total of 48 people, including 12 women, were arrested. A set of non-bailable cases were filed against the arrested ensuring their detention.
Mamata Banerjee’s government made every effort to thwart the rally demanding payment of DA arrears, filling up of vacancies, regularization of casual staff, etc. A huge police contingent was deployed who put up barricades to prevent protesters from approaching the Assembly. Around two o'clock, the agitators gathered under the statue of Lenin with flags, festoons, and banners. After that, general secretary of State Coordination Committee of government employees, Bijayshankar Sinha along with state president of All Bengal Teachers’ Association Krishnaprasanna Bhattacharya led the march through Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Kolkata's main thoroughfare, and turned to Rani Rasmani Road. The police had already set up three levels of barricades there. The march of employees and teachers brought down two barricades in front of the police. After that, the police force acting on “orders from above" turned ruthless. As the employees and teachers advanced by breaking down the barricades one after another, the ruthless police repression began. They indiscriminately arrested government employees, women employees, school-college-university teachers, and retirees and took them to Lalbazar. Many were injured in the police attack. Broken glasses and pens remained scattered on the road. Even in the face of government attacks, the protesters were undeterred, “We will claim our dues, come what may. The government has to meet our demands.”
LEGITIMATE AVENUE OF JUSTIFIED PROTEST
In protest against police brutality and reckless arrests, government employees and teachers staged a spontaneous demonstration by blocking all three lanes of Rani Rasmani Road in Dharmatala, at the city centre. They stalled the crossing for quite some time. The protesters affirmed that the demand of immediate payment of DA arrears was perfectly justified. West Bengal lags far behind all major states and union territories in terms of DA payment, they complained. They further stated categorically that they would not leave until their colleagues were released unconditionally. CPI(M) MP Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya told reporters, "The rule says DA should be paid to the employees. There is a High Court order too. We shall see how long the state government can remain in the dilly-dally mode regarding payment of DA. What the government is doing with its own employees is wrong. In addition, the police have also arrested some of the employees. So, the employees and teachers blocked the road in protest. They have made the right decision.”
Addressing the agitated mass, the leaders of the participating organisations explained their position. Section 144 of CrPC, they said, is instituted to protect the leaders and ministers of the ruling party, the rich and the powerful. However, here it is seen that the provisions of Section 144 CrPC remain the most effective legal instrument to curtail the right to peaceful demonstration. And if job aspirants, teachers, government employees, and retirees ask for dues they are beaten up under the same section 144. They added that the ruthless use of deceit under this government is part of a wider attack on its employees.
There are two topics on the pages of Bengali newspapers and on TV screens almost every day -- corruption and DA. The common link between both of these is the present state government. On the one hand, there is massive looting. Saradha, Rose Valley and other ponzi scams were already there, now the new list of loot includes a teacher recruitment scam, hundred days work scandal, and even a lottery ticket swindle. On the other hand, this government is depriving the employees in the administration every day. The prices of daily necessities are increasing day by day. But the dearness allowance of the employees in this state is not increasing at all. After much dilly-dallying, the Pay Commission's recommendations were implemented but the government cheated its employees by reducing the house rent allowance by three per cent while declaring three per cent DA. Apart from this, all the work is done by non-regular employees on nominal remuneration as the government is not making permanent appointment to permanent posts. Vacancies are increasing every day. The government cannot run like this. The leaders stated clearly that the state government employees will fight to the end for their rights, the pension recipients will also get their arrears. A larger movement should be built in the coming days to realise the demands. The state government employees and teachers have reached the limits of endurance.
As the arrested government employees and teachers came out one by one after getting bail, loud slogans were raised in the Bankshall Court Complex. Countless colleagues and comrades waited anxiously throughout the day, awaiting their release in a legal battle. They immediately ran and garlanded those released. The court's verdict was in favour of the protesters. All those wrongfully arrested got bail on this day. The same evening, the activists took out a big march in the court area. The police force which had carried out the reckless attack on the employee-teacher movement on Wednesday, arresting the agitators without charge and filing cases under non-bailable clauses, had to stand witness to the march.
“We are not criminals. We had come to protest against the non-payment of 35 per cent DA. We demand the filling up all vacancies with transparency and permanent employment of casual/contractual employees. Are these demands unfair? So why was a non-bailable arrest warrant issued against me and why was I kept in lockup all night? Why was I harassed all day today?” These questions echoed the Bankshall court premises throughout the day. As the high court employees were among those arrested, many activities of the high court were also thrown into uncertainty on this day. The government employee-teacher rally has shown beyond doubt that strong dissent has accumulated against the continued deprivation within the administration and in schools, colleges, and universities. If these issues are not resolved, this state is going to see a more intense movement in the coming days.
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