MUZAFFARABAD: On Wednesday, more than a dozen schoolteachers and two police officers were wounded after riot police used batons and tear gas shells to break a large procession of male tutors, accusing them of breaching the administration’s “understanding.”
Deputy Commissioner Abdul Hameed Kiyani informed Dharti News that about 68 students, including some pensioners, had been taken into custody for “rioting in a sensitive area.”
Representatives of the All Azad Kashmir Schoolteachers Organization vowed to start a “state-wide agitation” at a press conference after the incident if their demand was not fulfilled and their detained colleagues were not released within 24 hours by the government.
Around 2,000 teachers who had arrived from various parts of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) gathered on the premises of a state-run school in the Upper Chattar Housing Scheme earlier in the day, according to their protest programme that they made public last year on December 23.
They recalled that they had long called for the enforcement of a “commitment” made to them in 2013 by the then PPP government headed by Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, whereby the position of primary teacher was to be upgraded from BS-7 to BS-14, that of junior teacher to BS-16 from BS-14 and senior teacher to BS-17 from BS-16.
However, the pledge could not be revised due to the financial department’s conventional step-motherly mentality, which tends to replicate its convenient position of lack of funds when it comes to providing low-grade workers some real profit,” said Ayesha Siddique, one of the representatives in her speech on the occasion.”
She reported that shortly after taking office in 2016, Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider had already given teachers “an assurance to meet their demand for pay scale upgrades.”
She said, however, that Mr. Haider returned to his pledge “although he recently showed extra generosity by approving an arbitrary and exorbitant rise in the emoluments of senior government officials, including the Chief Secretary and the IGP.”
While at the school grounds, the organisers sent the officials a deadline of 1:45 p.m. to inform them of approval of their appeal or else they would go to the PM office to plan a nonviolent sit-in.
However, for fear of confrontation with the police who had been mobilised in large numbers in the region to face every eventuality, over 30 female teachers were ordered to stay back.
Strong police contingents halted them at a roundabout in Upper Chattar at about 3 p.m. when the teachers’ procession had barely advanced 400 yards. The rebellious demonstrators refused to disperse and the police began hitting them with batons after a few minutes, maintaining that they were disrupting the traffic flow.
Tear gas bombs were also lobbed by the police soon afterwards.
Although the exact number is not clear, more than a dozen teachers and two constables have suffered injuries, witnesses and official sources said. A private TV cameraman covering the confrontation was also hit by police, sparking protest from the local journalistic community.
Mr Kiyani justified police action against the teachers in a handout claiming that the “mild lathi charge” was carried out under his order to clear demonstrators.
The teachers’ organization’s office bearers had given the administration a promise that they would not penetrate the field containing the civil and assembly secretariats. And we offered them, in exchange, to form a representative delegation for a meeting with the authorities concerned. Nevertheless, however, a substantial number of teachers attempted to storm into the restricted area and scuffled with the police on being detained, he said.
In comparison, Malik Habibur Rehman, senior vice president, and other teachers’ body office bearers, found the police operation “completely unjustified, unlawful and unethical.”
We deeply reject the violence put on us when we were totally nonviolent. “The administration gave 40,000 families of teachers a very bad message,” they said at the press conference.
They cautioned against beginning an uprising from any nook and cranny of AJK “until the government realised the official machinery’s unfair attitude and compensated the fraternity of teachers.”