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Had lost hope, fought 7 yrs for this: Relief among those appointed teachers after Bengal job scam

SITTING ON his bed in a 10×10 ft room with a bunch of papers strewn around him, Tanmay Biswas, 37, picks up one of the sheets and says, “This is my appointment letter. I am now a primary school teacher. I have waited for this all these years.”

Tied to the wait for his appointment letter was another delay: “Now that I have a government job, my family has started looking for a bride for me. It’s time I got married. It is already late,” he adds.

Biswas, 37, is among several aspiring teachers in West Bengal who, after years of taking to the streets in protest against the teacher recruitment scam and after a long, legal battle in courts, have finally got their appointment letters as primary and secondary school teachers.

On June 13, a single-judge Bench of Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay ordered the sacking of 273 primary and secondary teachers hired through the Teachers’ Eligibility Test (TET) in 2014 and also ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe. Later, in a series of orders, Justice Gangopadhyay ordered the appointment of 339 teachers across West Bengal to correct the anomalies in the earlier appointments.

The Indian Express spoke to several candidates who have been appointed teachers, with many having joined their duties in the last week of September.

“What can I say? I am overwhelmed by the court’s order. Justice Abhijit Gangopadhyay is God to me. I had almost lost hope. At 37, I had just three years to get a government job. Though I was a deserving candidate and there were vacancies, we had to fight seven years to get this job,” says Biswas, who has now joined as a primary teacher in a school in Krishnanagar 1 block in Nadia district.

Until recently, Biswas, a resident of Java village, five km from Krishnanagar town, worked as a tuition teacher for those applying for the job of constables in the West Bengal Police.

Talking about his struggle, Biswas says that in 2015, he appeared for the Teachers Eligibility Test (TET) through the West Bengal School Service Commission. The results were out in 2016, but he didn’t qualify. Later, after it emerged that six questions in the test paper were wrong, Biswas was among several candidates who in 2018 filed a petition in the Calcutta High Court asking for their candidature to be considered. “I met some candidates who were in the same situation as me, pooled in money for the lawyers’ fees and decided to fight the case,” says Biswas, adding that he would visit Kolkata every week for the hearing and take the late-night train back to Nadia.

Over a 100 km away, at Shyambazar in Kolkata, Anindita De Sen, 40, says she is settling into her new routine.

After years of being around the house and her family, Sen now wakes up early to leave for the APJ Abdul Kalam English Medium School, where she was appointed as a primary teacher on September 27. She first takes the Metro to Esplanade, followed by a bus ride to get to her school.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Sen says that she had lost all hope when she turned 40 – the upper age-limit for a government job.

“I cleared the exam for the Primary Teachers Training Institute (PTTI) in 2005. But the following year, they closed the recruitment. Then, I appeared for the TET in 2014. I cleared this exam too, but did not get any job despite the vacancies,” says Sen, adding that she was part of several protests by teachers.

Mamata Banerjee supported us – both when she was in Opposition and later after she became Chief Minister in 2011. But nothing happened. I can’t believe my luck now. I don’t think I would have got the job if not for Justice Gangopadhyay,” says Anindita.

Saying that as a woman, her fight was tougher, she says, “People would say the protests and the legal battle were a waste of time and effort, and that I should focus on my family. I too lost all hope. I am happy that I have got this job, but I am worried I will lose out on seniority and gratuity when I retire,” says Sen.

At Khorermath in New Barrackpore, North 24 Parganas, Banalata Samaddar, 35, sits on the verandah of her two-storeyed house, minutes before leaving for school. Showing her appointment letter, she says, “This is my most prized possession. After we got to know that there were six wrong questions in the paper and that if we got marks for that, we would have been on the merit list, some of us formed a group and approached the court. I spent over Rs 1 lakh in lawyers’ fee and other expenses,” says Samaddar.

Speaking on the phone from Salar in Murshidabad district, Noor Alam, 38, who is now a primary teacher at Durgi Primary School in Kandi, Murshidabad, says, “This was a long, tough fight. Though I have got my appointment letter now, I lost seven years of experience because this is a job that I should have got in 2016. So, we are now wondering if we should make another appeal to the court.”

Alam, who lives with his parents, sister and wife, says the last few years were a struggle. “I worked in a private company for some time. Then I opened a tuition centre. I somehow managed to stay afloat. Hopefully, those days are now behind us,” he adds.

Bobita Sarkar’s appointment made news much beyond Mekhliganj, a municipality in Cooch Behar district – she was appointed as a teacher at the Mekhliganj Indira Girls High School replacing Ankita Adhikari, daughter of Trinamool leader and Minister of State for Education Paresh Adhikari who was among those whose appointments were cancelled on the orders of the court.

Speaking on the phone, Sarkar says, “I am happy for myself. But there are still many others who are equally deserving and are still agitating on the streets. I hope the court considers their case.”

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