KARACHI: Scores of headmasters, headmistresses and headteachers from public schools in Karachi and other parts of the province clashed with the police on Sunday as they attempted to march toward the Chief Minister (CM) House to register their protest against what they claimed was the government's high-handedness and apathy in regularising their appointments, even after two years of service.
The clash erupted as the protesting teachers, who had gathered outside the Karachi Press Club (KPC), forced their way through the barricades set up by the police to march toward the CM House. According to Saddar DSP Kunwar Asif, the teachers had only sought permission to hold a peaceful protest outside the KPC, but when they started heading toward the CM House, the police had to use water cannons and tear gas shells to stop them. "The decision was taken to maintain peace and ensure security," said DSP Asif, adding that the teachers who had been arrested would be released soon.
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The protesters, on the other hand, lamented that they were only demonstrating for their due rights, but the authorities had denied them the right to protest too. They pledged, however, that they wouldn't leave until their demands were met.
The teachers, including women, held banners and shouted slogans against the provincial government. They said that a test was conducted by the Government of Sindh through IBA Sukkur in 2015 for the posts of headmasters and headmistresses. Subsequently, a committee was formed by the chief secretary, which conducted interviews. Their degrees and credentials were verified by the Higher Education Commission, while they also underwent a 14-day training course through SZABIST the provincial Institute of Teachers Education.
Appointment letters were issued to 957 candidates who cleared all the tests on a contractual basis and the entire process of appointing the candidates was conducted on the orders of the Sindh Chief Minister.
After their appointments, most teachers started serving in decrepit government schools, with all their dedication and abilities, despite the lack of resources, said the protesters. A positive educational environment has been given to these government schools, which has also been recognised by the former minister for education Syed Sardar Ali Shah, Education Secretary Qazi Shahid, multiple members of the assembly and the civil society, they added.
Certificates of appreciation were also awarded to the employees for their great performance. Former education minister Syed Sardar Ali Shah and secretary Qazi Shahid had on multiple occasions assured the teachers that their jobs would be regularised, but the contracts were extended for another year and a notification for their dismissal after the contract period was recently issued.
"We reject this notification. The decision to dismiss us is a mental torture for us," said Faiza Fatima, a headmistress from Karachi. "We are being continuously threatened by the education secretary through the media that we will be dismissed. Almost 5,000 posts are lying vacant in government schools in Sindh and they are trying to dismiss us without any reason," she added.
Turab Ali Abro, a headmaster from Larkana, said, "The Sindh government has appointed thousands of employees on contract basis in the past and these employees have been regularised but we are being treated differently." The main reason, he claimed, was that they [teachers] had been appointed on the basis of merit and were struggling to improve the quality of education in Sindh's public schools. "We, the headmasters and headmistresses, members of civil society and social activists from the whole province have gathered at KPC in great numbers to put our demands before the PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Sindh CM Syed Murad Ali Shah and School Education Secretary Qazi Shahid Parvez," he remarked.
Several hours into the protest, when the teachers received no signal from the government, they started marching toward the CM House. Police placed obstacles in their way to restrict them from advancing.
This was when clashes erupted between the protesters and the police, with the former resorting to baton-charge and using water cannons to disperse the protesters. Several protesters were injured in the clash, while some of the women also fainted. The injured were shifted to hospitals in ambulances while several teachers were arrested by the police.
The protesters warned that they would eventually enter the red zone and protest in front of the CM House if their demands were not met. "Government of Sindh wants to appoint uneducated headmasters through favouritism. The exploitation of merit should be stopped and the trend to accept the demands after baton-charging and using water cannons at the protestors should also end," said Faiz Gul, who had come from Hyderabad.
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Meanwhile, Pakistan Muslim League-Functional MPA Nusrat Sehar Abbasi, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf MPA Raja Azhar Khan and Jamaat-e-Islami leader Muhammad Hussain Mehanti also reached KPC to express support for the protestors. They assured the protesters that they would raise the issue in the assembly and get it resolved.
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After the clashes, the Additional Education Secretary summoned the protesters to his office to resolve the issue through negotiations, on the directives of Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah. A five-member delegation of teachers went to the Secretariat for negotiations.
The negotiations went on for three hours, after which, the five-member delegation announced that the talks had reached a stalemate. Headmaster Akhtar Jabbar said that the authorities had agreed to release the arrested teachers, while their demand for the regularisation of their jobs would be put before the education secretary the next day at 12pm. "We have decided to go back to KPC, where our sit-in will continue until our demands are met," he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2019.