Sacked teachers set themselves alight

Suchitra Behal

INDIA

Seven teachers doused themselves in kerosene before setting themselves on fire in protest at being sacked. All seven were admitted to hospital. Three remain in a serious condition.

After the state government announced in March that it was withdrawing the centrally-sponsored scheme to appoint non-formal teaching staff, 40,000 teachers were sacked. The teachers, who worked in Orissa - a state in western India - have been campaigning to get their jobs back since the announcement.

The police have arrested eight people over the incident, which took place at the the residence of the speaker of the Orissa state assembly. These include Gangadhar Panigrihi, president of the All Orissa Non Formal Teachers Federation, and two women teachers, who have been charged with abetting suicide.

The teachers, who are paid a mere 200 rupees a month (pound;2.50) said that the sacking had stripped them of their dignity.

Ranjan, one of the protesting teachers, said: "Its not the money. What mattered most was the satisfaction of being a teacher."

He does not want to return home despite not having a job now. "I took thousands of rupees to come to the state capital to protest, shall I now go back and say there is no hope?" The poor state of the local hospitals in Orissa, has left the teachers who are being treated unable to arrange for adequate nursing help and reliant on their colleagues for assistance.

Another teacher, Niranjan, said he joined the demonstration to boost the morale of fellow teachers. His wife suffers from an abdominal tumor and his son has malaria, but he has no money to treat his family.

"Now I have lost even the pittance that the government gave me, I don't know what to do," he said.

Most of these teachers supplemented their wages by being private tutors, but with the withdrawal of the non-formal teachers scheme, which was set up to deal with a shortage of teachers, they now have no future prospects. Non-formal teachers are registered but are often unqualified and are mainly appointed as temporary cover to plug school vacancies.

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Suchitra Behal

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