| Police use force to disperse contract teachers protesting at R-Block in Patna on Tuesday. Pictures by Nagendra Kumar Singh
Patna, March 5: The agitation by contract teachers that had troubled chief minister Nitish Kumar during his travels through Bihar last year today exploded on the streets of the state capital with the protests reaching the Assembly gates and spiralling into a pitched battle with police.
Tension had been building up in the city since morning. Late last night, the police had forcibly evicted contract teachers who had been sitting in protest at one corner of R-Block, the first entrance leading to the main gate of the Assembly, 500 metres away.
“We have been sitting on a peaceful hunger strike for the past five days. Around midnight on Monday, a huge posse of policemen opened the gates of R-Block and attacked us. Armed with sticks, they beat us and didn’t spare the women as well. Some of us, who were without food, were forcibly picked up and dumped outside Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH),” said Anand Kaushal Singh, the secretary of the Bihar Panchayat Nagar Prarambhik Sikshak Sangh.
This morning, thousands of contract teachers again started marching towards R-Block. Traffic was thrown out of gear as vehicles were stopped at key points such as Frazer Road, Station Road and JP Roundabout, where the snarl continued for more than three hours.
Around 3.30pm, the agitation snowballed. “The gate at R-Block was locked. The protesters suddenly turned violent and tried to break in as they wanted to reach the main gate of the Assembly. When they couldn’t, they started pelting stones at the police. The police retaliated by using water cannons, but the stone-pelting got heavier. The police were then forced to fire tear-gas shells,” a police officer said.
At least 50 rounds of tear-gas shells were fired. Over two dozen teachers were injured.
As the teachers retreated, the police opened the R-Block gate and started wielding batons, sticks and lathis to disperse the mob.
At this, the retreating mob of protesters went on the rampage. One group ran towards the Mithapur flyover where they set a police jeep on fire. Another bunch of protesters torched a road transport corporation bus.
“It seems they had come well-prepared with inflammable items. With the police chasing them, the mob set on fire a police jeep and a bus belonging to the Bihar State Road Transport Corporation (BSRTC). Many vehicles, both two-wheelers and cars, parked near R-Block and the Patna Junction, were smashed. At least three fire tenders had to be deployed to fight the blaze,” another police officer said.
Patna SSP Amrit Raj said around two dozen protesters had been taken into custody. In all, five vehicles, including two police jeeps, were burnt.
The confrontation between the government and the contract teachers has been simmering for several months.
The 2.5 lakh and odd contract teachers in the state, who get a salary of Rs 6,000 per month, have been fighting with the government for better wages.
Their demands are primarily two-fold: one, the right to equal pay for equal work and two, the government should agree to inter-district transfer.
The government has so far maintained that it would raise the salary of these teachers to a “respectable level” but it will not provide them with the pay-scale stipulated for regular teachers.
The protests by the contract teachers turned ugly during Nitish’s Adhikar Yatra rallies which began in October last year. The chief minister faced widespread protests in Motihari, Madhepura, Bettiah, Darbhanga and Gaya. At a rally in Madhepura, one of the protesting teachers even hurled a slipper at Nitish, but could not strike him.
The injured teachers had their own tale to narrate.
“My leg is broken. They (police) beat me up very badly,” said Rajender Prasad, a contract teacher from Sheikhpura who was lying near the office of the chief post-master general near New Market.
The government will make a statement on the issue in the Assembly tomorrow.