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‘No trust at all’: Bihar teachers, aspirants out on street against Nitish Kumar’s ‘betrayal’

Patna: At 5 am on Sunday, Rajeev Ranjan left his home in Motihari to make the 150-km-long train journey to Patna. He was not alone. As many as 15 others from his hometown accompanied him, ready to fight for the teaching positions that the Nitish Kumar government had promised them.

Despite passing the Bihar State Teachers Eligibility Test (STET) in 2021, Rajeev hasn’t been appointed yet.

“We were expecting appointment letters, but now we are being asked to take the exam again,” said Ranjan, who was part of the day-long dharna at Gardanibagh in Patna on 16 April.

But it’s not just Rajeev and about 80,000 others like him who will have to take the test again, which will now be conducted by the Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC).

About 3.5 lakh teachers in Bihar who were appointed by the Panchayati Raj institutions without any test would also need to take the exam again if they want government employee status. On 10 April, the Nitish Kumar government jolted the state’s teachers and aspirants by scrapping the system he himself had introduced in 2006 and clearing the new rules — Bihar State School Teacher (Appointment, Transfer, Disciplinary Proceedings and Service Conditions) Rules 2023. Even those who passed the central TET will have to give the exam again.

The decision to drastically “reform” the recruitment process has brought teachers from every corner of Bihar on to the streets. And it has affected the second phase of the caste census, which began on 15 April. Teachers roped in as enumerators have threatened to boycott it, even as the state government has reiterated that was not an option. And it’s causing fissures in the Mahagathbandhan of JDU-RJD-Congress-Left Front parties.

“We are getting beaten on the streets,” Ranjan said. Hundreds of teachers participated in the protest and raised slogans against the CM and RJD for failing to keep their promises.

But Nitish Kumar has made it clear there will be no change in the new rules.

“More than two lakh teachers will be appointed this year and they will get the status of state government employees,” he said on 14 April, at a a function to commemorate Ambedkar Jayanti at his party office. Another one lakh teachers will be recruited in 2024 under the new rules.

Teachers and aspirants at a day-long protest in Patna’s Gardanibagh area on Sunday | Photo: Krishan Murari/ThePrint

Also read: Unemployed for years, craving govt job: Why story of Bihar’s youth is of struggle & despair

Long wait becomes longer

Ranjan has been a part of almost every agitation by teachers in the past few years. He’s fighting for dignity and job security, he says. His eight-member family is dependent solely on agriculture.

It was a high 43 degrees Celsius in Patna on Sunday, but protesters remained unfazed.

Manoj Kumar, 28, another candidate from Motihari, has also been waiting for his appointment letter.

“Most of us have cleared three or four papers. Now when the time for appointment has come, we are being asked to give another paper,” Kumar said.

Under the new rule, Niyojit teachers (appointed since 2006) will get three chances to clear BPSC exam and become government teachers. If they do not take the exam or fail it, their current status will remain unchanged.

Priyanka, 26, who traveled by bus from Nalanda to join Sunday’s protest, had given the STET 2019 in 2021 — after it was first postponed following a Patna High Court order and then cancelled due to paper leak.

“For the last four years, we have been worried about the job. And now all hopes have been shattered by this new rule,” she said.

Rajeev Ranjan (left) and Manoj Kumar (right), candidates from Bihar’s Motihari district who cleared STET in 2021 but have been waiting for the appointment letter | Photo: Krishan Murari/ThePrint

Also read: Indian 3rd graders better in English than Hindi, Bihar students top Math, finds NCERT survey

Coalition partners worried

Teachers want unconditional government employee status. More than 20 teachers’ unions in Bihar have come together as a unified body and are planning to organise a mass protest. Thousands had demonstrated outside the RJD office last week.

Calling it a betrayal, Syed Shakir Imam—state general secretary of TET-STET Uttirna Niyojit Shikshak Sangh—warned that if their demands are not met, then a teachers’ mahasammelan will be organised in Patna by the end of this month.

The new rules have also caused discontent among JDU allies.

“This decision of the state government is unfortunate because these teachers were reinstated during the Nitish Kumar government and now asking them to take the exam again is a complete injustice. This will affect the democracy within schools,” said Paliganj MLA Sandeep Saurav of CPI-ML (Liberation) who heads the Bihar Shikshak Sangharsh Morcha.

The CPIML (Liberation) is part of the seven-party coalition government in Bihar, but its members claim that their views have not been taken into consideration in the grand alliance.

“We have been demanding for a coordination committee, but Nitish Kumar does not take the opinion of the coalition partners. In the interest of teachers, we will meet the coalition leaders and oppose this decision together,” Saurav said.

ThePrint contacted state education minister Prof Chandrasekhar for a comment. The article will be updated with his response.

RJD spokesperson Mrityunjay Tiwari said that the government would not compromise on health and education.

“Teachers should be happy because the new rules are in their interest. Those who are capable will pass this exam easily. They should not be afraid but should take advantage of this opportunity,” he said.

Teachers and aspirants at a day-long protest in Patna’s Gardanibagh area on Sunday | Photo: Krishan Murari/ThePrint

Also read: India’s Tuition Republic is bigger than ever. Coaching culture is an epidemic now

Promise made, broken trust 

In 2005, when Nitish Kumar became the chief minister, he started the recruitment process of teachers in Bihar on a large scale. It was undertaken at the Panchayati Raj level, in which teachers were recruited through the Mukhiya (village head) on the ‘degree dikhao naukri pao’ scheme.

And in its manifesto before the 2020 Bihar assembly election, the RJD promised to give them government employee status.

“We were expecting pronnati (promotion) but the government made us abhyarthi (candidates),” said Praveen Kumar (44) who has been teaching in a primary school in Kaimur for the last 20 years. Kumar was appointed in 2003 as a Shiksha Mitra on a contractual basis and was made a Niyojit when Nitish Kumar came to power.

But Bihar education department officials remain unmoved, echoing the government’s explanation that the quality of teachers appointed was found wanting.

“There were many flaws in the recruitment process. Therefore, under the new rules, the BPSC will conduct exams that will be more transparent and the quality of teachers will also be better,” said an education official who did not want to be identified.

Over the last few years, the quality of government education in Bihar has come under increased security. Professor Kalanath Mishra, chairman of the Hindi department at AN College, said that the system was gradually failing. “Students who used to have a slate in their hands now have bowls and plates in their hands,” he said.

According to him, the previous recruitment process failed to weed out candidates who didn’t have the required skills to teach.

“There is a need for transparency in the recruitment of teachers, which will happen if BPSC conducts the examination,” says Mishra supporting the government’s new rule.

Political strategist Prashant Kishor has also waded into this thorny issue.

“How will BPSC take the exam of 4 lakh teachers? BPSC lacks resources. Who will check the paper? One can understand what the government is trying to do here,” he said at a Jan Suraj Yatra in Vaishali.

AIMIM state president and MLA Akhtarul Iman accused the Nitish Kumar government of having “ruined the education policy” and expressed doubts that BPSC could conduct the examination for such a large pool of candidates in a state with a history of question paper leaks. “Improvement is needed but it should be done gradually. If you do it immediately, there will be demonstrations,” he said.

Meanwhile, most of the Niyojit teachers have been given the responsibility for the second phase of the caste census, but are threatening to boycott it.

The teachers’ union of Kaimur and Gaya have also announced this by issuing a letter to the District Magistrate on 12 April.

“We do not want to boycott the census, but the government is forcing our hands,” said Shakir Imam.

For people like Ranjan, trust has been broken.

“There is a difference between kathni and karni (words and actions) of the government. There is no trust at all.”

(Edited by Prashant)

Source: The Print

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