‘I am also a driver’: Assam teachers protest against education minister’s ‘driving license’ remark

Loknath Das

Image: Twitter

Irked by a recent remark by Assam’s Education Minister Siddhartha Bhattacharya, teachers in the state are protesting by prefixing their names with ‘driver’ on their social media handles, taking a page out of the books of BJP leaders and supporters who prefixed theirs with ‘chowkidar’ while campaigning in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections.

On June 13, while taking a live question from a teacher in Barpeta on All India Radio, Bhattacharya had said that those teachers who had gotten their teaching certificates more than five years ago need to have their documents renewed, just like driving licenses. For this, they will have to sit for the Teacher’s Eligibility Test (TET) again.

The first general TET exam was held in Assam in 2012. Those who have qualified this exam are eligible to seek employment at government-backed primary schools in the state.

In 2012, over 52,000 people had passed the exam, of which around 26,000 were granted employment in a phased manner, as per a Times of India report. The last exam was held in Assam in 2014 with over 90,000 candidates having cleared heir exam.

However, a TET certificate lapses every seven years, warranting those who haven’t been able to procure a job in that period to sit for the exam again. As a result of this, around 40,000 teachers, who were working on a contractual basis, are left in the lurch because their jobs haven’t been regularized by the government.

The vexed teachers have given their social media mobilisation the form of a state-wide protest, demanding Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal to regularise the jobs of TET qualified teachers who are working on a contractual basis for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan.

Teachers point out that it was the government at fault here that has not regularised them despite vacant posts.

Mirajul Rasid, general secretary of an organisation that represents TET qualified teachers, said as per a report by The Indian Express, “This is not out of disrespect for drivers in any way. But the comparison makes no sense. Do we have to sit for a driving test at the DTO every time we renew our driving licenses?”

“Our social media campaign is not derogatory but actually a mark of respect to drivers — us teachers are drivers of schools, of educating children, just like Sarbananda Sonowal is the driver of Assam,” Rasid added.