After eight days of protests, the Joint Action Council of Tamil Nadu Teachers' Organisation and Government Employeesâ€™ Organisations (Jactto-Geo), an umbrella association of government staff and teachers temporarily called off its strike on Wednesday, as most employees returned to work over the last few days. Jactto-Geo members leading the strike, however, maintained that they were relenting due to the fast approaching practical exams for students who are set to appear for their public examinations this year.
Members of the organsisation have been striking work since January 22 with demands like reverting to the old pension scheme and a hike in pay for secondary grade teachers among others. The government, however, refused to entertain any dialogue with them and went on the offensive by hiring temporary teachers and warning protestors of suspension and treating their posts as vacant. The state government also offered to transfer teachers to a place of their choice in an attempt to break the resolve of striking staff. Following this, on Tuesday, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami maintained that barring a few, almost all the protesting teachers had resumed their duties.
"The teachers did not go back because of the Government's appeal or threats. They only went back because they were concerned about the students and their exams. Practical exams begin from February 6," says Thiyagarajan, an office bearer of the organisation. "We have to admit also that we thought the government will address the issue sooner as they would be concerned about student welfare if teachers protest. But the CM is behaving more like a dictator than as a leader in a democracy. They made the whole thing seem like a financial issue for the government when all we were asking for is our due pensions," he adds.
Moreover, teachers are waiting for the Madurai High Court decision on the matter expected in the second week of February.
'Protests became political'
But not all teacher associations believe that the nature of protest was just.
"The matter of the protest is correct but the manner in which it was all executed was not right," PK Ilamaran, state president of the Tamil Nadu Teachers' Association. "When we hold such protests, stop buses and and create chaos, what example are we setting for our students? If they want to register protest, they should have taken classes and not signed the attendance register. Most people leading the protest are retired government staff. Moreover, the protests took a very political colour with DMK and CPI-M associated members having too much of a say."