By Bappaditya Paul
On Tuesday the sun blazed over Kolkata skyline, giving the city the first feel of the summer this season. The maximum temperature rose to 34 degree Celsius, up by a notch than normal.
Even as people preferred staying indoors or being under some sort of shade, some 350-odd youths ~ both men and women from lower to middle-income families ~ were lying on a tarpaulin sheet spread over the pavement near Kolkata Press Club.
Most of the women amongst them had their umbrellas unfurled for cover. The men either had no cover or some of them held placards above their heads to keep the sun at bay.
They were all visibly tired: their eyes lacked shine, hairs were unkempt and clothes rumpled.
These are the youths who had qualified in the secondary and higher secondary teacher recruitment test conducted by the Bengal government in 2016 but has since been placed on a waitlist. This is even as the number of vacancies is much higher than them.
To press the Bengal government that they should be called for counseling, that is, the final stage for recruitment, the youths have been on a hunger strike on the pavement since 28 February.
Initially, there were 450-odd youths on the hunger fast but nearly 50 have already been taken ill. Another 50-odd have pulled out as they were unable to withstand the hardship of sleeping on the pavement day and night.
The remaining 350-odd have completed the 13th day of hunger strike today and are determined to continue unless and until the government relents.
“The third phase of counseling is slated for 19 March. All we are demanding that the School Service Commission (SSC) should update the number of notified vacancies and call us for counseling,” said Sharmila Mondal, one of those on hunger strike.
Mondal and her fellow agitators said that the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) that has come into force for the Lok Sabha polls will not be an issue if the government wants to address the matter in the right spirit.
“Since the notification for counseling was issued before the announcement of the elections, mere updating the vacancies will not violate MCC. Because this is a process in continuation and not a fresh initiative,” they reasoned.
An expert on legal and election matters said that there is merit in the argument. “But SSC shall have to seek clearance from the Election Commission in advance and in a matter like this the request is unlikely to be turned down provided the matter is communicated properly,” he said.
The political functionaries of the state government, however, have already got enmeshed in the election process. Education minister Partha Chatterjee, who also happens to be Trinamool’s secretary general, was present at the release of the party’s Lok Sabha candidate list today.
There’s none to transmit to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee the earnest plea scribbled on placards of the youths on hunger strike that reads ~ “Didi, we want your intervention!”