Aftermath of Egypt’s Tahrir Square protest movement, social media has become a pivotal tool to manifest one’s voice and lodge protest. People in Punjab have taken the form of expressing protest to literally new heights. Protesters were climbing cellphone towers to make their voices heard. It has been 18 days since 35-year-old Deepak Kumar from Fazilka and 30-year-old Rakesh Kumar from Gurdaspur climbed a mobile tower at Punjab Bhawan in Sector 3, a high security-zone in Chandigarh. Since then, they have stayed put there, eating, sleeping and performing other bodily functions from 100 feet above. Last week, they began a hunger strike on their perch. Their demand? Having passed the Teachers’ Eligibility Test (TET), they want the Punjab government to hire them as teachers, an Indian Express report said. With Assembly elections just a few months away, more and more such incidents were coming to the fore. In another instance, 27-year-old Taran Aulakh, 32-year-old Harpreet Kaur and 23-year-old Jatinder Kaur climbed another mobile tower, this time in the compound of a large house in Sector 3. They are teachers too, and have the same demand: a government job. They were brought down by police on Monday night after their union was assured of a meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on Thursday — Deepak and Rakesh will continue their protest till the outcome of the meeting is clear.
But the Punjab government has indicated that it would not relent. “Clearing TET is not a guarantee for a job. It’s a qualifying exam. The government has conducted recruitments in 10-11 districts, and there are no vacancies left. The protesters are adopting these measures to blackmail the government,” said Punjab Education Minister Daljeet Singh Cheema.
In September, Deepak and Rakesh had climbed on a water tank in Badal village, the hometown of the Punjab Chief Minister in Bathinda, with two other teachers, and stayed there for five days. Rakesh used to work as a mechanic in Gurdaspur and is a father of two — one aged seven and another two months old. His father is unwell, and his wife is doing odd jobs to sustain the family. Deepak, who has two children, is the sole breadwinner of the family. He used to work as a labourer to manage his house. Harpreet Kaur lives with her mother and there is no one else in the family. Taran Aulakh became a father just one-and-a-half months ago. Jatinder Kaur lives with her parents and a brother.
Shalinder Kumar (27), another member of ETPUTU who protested atop a mobile tower in Badal village last month for three days, says that members of the union are resorting to such protests due to their helplessness.
“My father died in January. I am the eldest in the family and have a younger brother and sister. Apart from running the house, I have to get my sister married. My father was a labourer and took great pains to ensure that I get admission in an ETT course in a private college. The cost of pursuing the course was more than Rs 2 lakh for which my father took a loan. I cleared TET two years ago, but have been struggling to get a job. Seeing no other way to get the government’s attention, I decided with five others to climb the mobile tower. I came down after three days. Another person stayed on the tower for six days,” he said.
And it’s not just mobile towers, or teachers. Last Wednesday, Karamjit Kaur, president of Punjab’s nurses and ancillary staff union, was rescued after she jumped into the Bhakra canal in Patiala to demand regularisation of jobs and full pay scales. Karmajit even took a selfie from a bridge on the Patiala Nabha road before jumping into the canal.