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West Bengal SSC Aspirants Fight On, 500 Days and Counting

While SSC aspirants have been protesting for 500 days, their fight started almost six years ago.

Updated
India
7 min read

Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma

Let the law take its own course, that's not our primary objective. We are just waiting for Mamata Didi to let us teach at schools, so that we can have an income and put a smile on the faces of our dear ones and feed them a decent meal twice a day.
Rajendranath Mondal, SSC Aspirant and Protestor

The political slugfest around the alleged West Bengal School Service Commission Recruitment scam may end up drowning the voices of SSC aspirants who have been protesting in a small space on the footpath, right in front of the Gandhi statue of Mayo Road.

SSC Aspirants protest on Mayo Road

(Photo: Debayan Dutta / The Quint)

But they have been protesting for a total of 500 days now, a protest that first started in 2019, and a fight for justice, that started years before.
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The SSC aspirants who had appeared for their State Level Selection Test (SLST) examinations in 2016, started their first protest outside the Press Club of Kolkata in 2019. 25 days into the protest, CM Mamata Banerjee met them and assured them of a solution.

A 10-member committee was formed to solve the issue, comprising five members from the aspirants and five from the administration. It is alleged that those close to members of the committee had gotten jobs, while deserving candidates were left out.

So, they protested again, this time in Salt Lake’s central part for 187 days, when ex-SSC chairman Subha Shankar Sarkar and Education Minister Bratya Basu met them and assured them of a solution in 40 days. There were none. So now, they are protesting for 284 days and counting, in front of the Gandhi statue.

‘We Have to Protest. It’s a Matter of Life or Death’

Rajendranath Mondal takes the train from Baruipur every morning to come join the protest from 10am to 5pm. That is the time given by the Calcutta High Court for them to protest.

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On most days, his only meal of the day is at night, after he comes back from the protests.

Rajendranath Mondal

(Photo: Debayan Dutta / The Quint)

I am embarrassed to say, but I must beg my father for money. I am married, but I must ask my father for money. I am somehow managing my food. I eat whatever I get.
Rajendranath Mondal, SSC Aspirant and Protestor

Mondal had ranked 144 in History for 9th and 10th standard in the examinations. Deprived of a job, he was giving private tuitions to make ends meet for his family, which includes his parents, wife and child. The COVID lockdown took that away from him, and now the family's income is based on their farm’s produce.

We are financially very weak, and our agricultural produce barely gets us through. If I got the job, then I could give them a decent life. I feel quite hopeless.
Rajendranath Mondal, SSC Aspirant and Protestor
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Some of the aspirants have died by suicide.

A general sense of hopelessness prevails among the aspirants who have been running from pillar to post for six years, but they have been sitting patiently – through the rain, cold and heat, holding on to each other and the hope of being able to give their families a decent life.

The protests have become a way of life for these aspirants. They share meals, gossip with each other and more. Similar to how it was in the farmers' protests, but on a much smaller scale. 

(Photo: Debayan Dutta / The Quint)

On the bad financial days, Mondal’s parents ask him to not spend time protesting and try and look for a means to add to the family income. But he says that otherwise his parents understand that he is “fighting for the truth” and support him.

Unlike other protests, there's hardly any sloganeering here. They just sit patiently, holding their placards throughout the day. The protestors tell the Quint that they want to protest peacefully and not break any rules.

Aspirants holding placards

(Photo: Debayan Dutta / The Quint)

We are sitting with some hope. We are sitting here to get what we rightfully deserve. We are not a big organisation that we will protest the malpractices of the government. We just want what is rightfully ours
Mohammad Kamruzzaman Biswas, SSC Aspirant and Protestor
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Hailing from Murshidabad, Biswas who ranked 34 in the waiting list, claims that many who ranked below him are working now, while he is on the streets.

He has been making ends meet by teaching private tuitions. The protestors take turns to attend the protest. They usually alternate between attending the protests and giving private tuitions or doing odd jobs.

For many aspirants, this job is all that they have. They will have nothing if they don't get the job.
Mohammad Kamruzzaman Biswas, SSC Aspirant and Protestor

Many of the aspirants have crossed the age limit to qualify for the examinations and will not be able to re-take the examinations.

Most of the aspirants come from economically poor backgrounds and a teaching job at a government school was their way out of poverty. This is what they prepared for all their life.

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There are economic problems in the house, but we are somehow managing. We must protest. It's about our life or death for us.
Mohammad Kamruzzaman Biswas, SSC Aspirant and Protestor

Nadia’s Mamoni Basak says that she and her family will be able to live a life of dignity if she gets the job. Her husband who had applied for a railway job is still on the waiting list, and her father is struggling to make ends meet.

Since she leaves her house early to catch the train, she usually misses her breakfast. On many days she skips her lunch too because all the money she has is spent on train tickets.

Mohammad Kamruzzaman Biswas (Left) and Mamoni Basak (Right)

All the money that my father earned was spent in my school and college education, coaching classes and my marriage.
Mamoni Basak, SSC Aspirant and Protestor

She tells The Quint that there is no ladies’ washroom in the vicinity, and that has led many women protesters to fall sick and even die because of the harsh conditions. But she says that she is "ready to die here".

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‘Just Because We Don’t Have Money, Should We Not Get a Job?’

Down the street towards Eden Gardens, right under Matangini Hazra’s statue, a group of TET aspirants are protesting for the past 41 days to be recruited into upper primary teaching jobs.

TET Aspirants and their parents protest right under Matangini Hazra’s statue

(Photo: Debayan Dutta / The Quint)

Their demand? That the government update the number of vacant seats before the interviews are conducted in accordance with a gazette issued by the WB government and Kolkata High Court.

According to the aspirants, the number of vacancies is 14,339, the same number as it was in 2014, but if the government updates the vacancies, then almost all the aspirants can be recruited.

The government can't return the lost eight years, but they can accommodate eight years' worth of seats
Supol Kumar Biswas, Father of TET Aspirant

Biswas and many other parents have been coming to the protests on behalf of their children, and other children who aren’t being able to attend.

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Biswas says that her daughter, like many other aspirants, is suffering from depression and are embarrassed to show her face in public.

As their guardians, we need to stand by them.
Supol Kumar Biswas, Father of TET Aspirant

Howrah’s Debarati Chatterjee says that she and her in-laws are often asked and sometimes even ridiculed by their neighbours about her job, and they have no answer.

The protestors tell The Quint about many married women who are being “emotionally tortured” by their in-laws because they have not secured a job yet. There are spinsters who can’t get married because they haven’t been recruited yet.

Paschim Medinipur’s Baneshwar Bera says that her family lives at the mercy of nature. Living in a flood-prone area means running the risk of no agricultural produce and thereby no income, in the event of a flood.

“Just because we don't have money, won't we get a job?”, says Bera as he talks about the alleged ‘scam’ by the West Bengal government.
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The protestors share their joys, sorrow, hopes and dreams, and through that hold on to each other and live to fight another day. While they claim that the hopelessness is getting the better of them and it is getting difficult to keep protesting, but they want to keep fighting, because:

“We are fighting for the truth, and the truth will win”, says almost every protestor that this reporter spoke to.

Despite several allegations of irregularities against the West Bengal government, all the protestors still have all their hopes pinned on CM Mamata Banerjee to solve their problem.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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