The ongoing strike by the Joint Action Council of Tamil Nadu Teachersâ€™ Organisations and Government Employeesâ€™ Organisations (Jactto-Geo) has continued to grab headlines but no solution seems to be within the grasp of the agitating teachers. The three demands that they have laid out to the state government are - revocation of the new pension scheme, payment of arrears and the redressal of anomalies in the regularisation of service of some employees and in pay. But with it becoming clear that teachers won't back down, the government has chosen to go on the offensive. Over the last week, teachers have been suspended, detained, warned of being replaced and finally accused of already earning far more than their counterparts. Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami even alleged that opposition parties were instigating the teachers with false propaganda.
But M. Anbarasu, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Government Employeesâ€™ Association and one of the State co-ordinators of Jactto-Geo, says it is the government and the ministers who spreading false information. In an interview with TNM he states that the manner in which ministers have 'twisted' their demands has only brought more teachers to the agitation.
Why do you claim your demands have been misinterpreted?
First of all, we never asked for increased salary. Our three demands have been made very clear and we are only asking for our rights. But Minister Jayakumar who speaks to the media has time and again made it look like we are asking for increased salaries despite being paid well. Even the numbers he has offered to support his claim are exaggerated.
The Minister has said 71% of government expenditure is on salaries. Are you disputing this?
According to the government's list the salary expenses for government employees and teachers together is over Rs 52,000 crore which is 31.63% of the total expenditure. Then they mention that pension expenses is 15.37%. So much does this add up to? Only 47%. The rest of the expenses mentioned is for administration and interest. Do we get anything out of this? No. Administration expenses is what they use for publicity, advertisement, travel for ministers, their stay in other places, etc. What more, they don't even mention how much IPS, IAS and district judges get out of this percentage.
So, how is this a fair representation of the expenditure?
Are you not concerned about students who will lose out because of protests before exams?
We are obviously concerned but they will always produce a reason to stop us from protesting. First it was Gaja cyclone, for which we have all contributed relief money. Now it is students. We have completed the syllabus for the exam and now they just have to study at home. If they (the government) really cares about students they should be calling and talking to us. We are ready to give them time. Do they need a year? They can even promise to do it after elections. Now we are in a position where we can't stop our protest unless we are assured that our demands are met.
Why is the Chief Minister not meeting you?
In the past, when issues have cropped up, we have spoken to Anna, MGR, Kalaignar and Jayalalithaa about our demands. They have all said that we are the backbone of a government and told us to wait due to financial issues. But now despite multiple meetings with the Education Minister Sengottaiyan and Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar, we are not given am audience. They are trying instead to diminish the value of our protest and politicise it.
The Chief Minister says teachers are misguided by Opposition propaganda.
There is no political interference in our protest. The government claims we are doing politics in the name of the association. But we are not interested in politics. There are 268 sangams in this association, can we all be political? It is not possible. If we support DMK in such huge numbers, they would have been in power by now. If govt employees start politicising issues, it is dangerous for the state. This is just a trick to misguide people who are watching us protest.
They are already hiring temporary teachers and have warned that positions will be made permanent if you don't return to work. Are you afraid of losing your jobs?
Temporary teachers didn't want to come initially for Rs. 7500. So the next day Rs. 10,000 rupees was offered by the government. These teachers won't be able to conduct classes the way we can or help students with their revisions.
We are not scared of losing our jobs, we have gone beyond that. We can work till we are 58 years old but this government is already counting its days. We have the right to protest. Our protests may even outlive this government.