October 17, 2023
By Maryam Missal
Thousands of teachers across Punjab have imposed an ‘educational boycott’ in the province’s schools ever since the caretaker government has announced its controversial decision to privatize 1,000 public schools.
At the same time, amendments to pension regulations have further fueled the ire of the protesters, resulting in widespread demonstrations across major cities and districts of the province. Even now, despite the closure of schools across Punjab for several days, the caretaker government is yet to indicate if it will review its decision.
The teachers are demanding a reversal of the decision to transfer over 1,000 public schools to a non-governmental organization (NGO) Muslim Hands Pakistan. But instead of holding talks or reconsidering its decision, the caretaker government has responded with a show of force and a heavy-handed crackdown with the arrest of hundreds of protesters.
CASES SLAPPED ON TEACHERS
On October 12, nearly 200 teachers and civil servants in Lahore were arrested after police baton-charged their rally against the privatisation plan. They were charged under several provisions, including section 324 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) i.e. attempt to murder.
The next morning, on October 13, the Punjab Police requested the courts for a 10-day judicial remand of the arrested protestors, however the presiding judicial magistrate Imran Abid instead ordered for their immediate release. In spite of the magistrate’s directives, the teachers were transferred to Kot Lakhpat Jail after Lahore Deputy Commissioner (DC) Rafia Haider issued detention orders under the Punjab Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) Ordinance 1960 only hours later.
On October 16, the Lahore High Court (LHC) sought a written response from Inspector General of Police (IGP) Punjab Dr Usman Anwar with regards to violating the magistrate’s orders for the release of the detained teachers, which is due today.
The Punjab Teachers Union (PTU) have voiced concerns, contending that the government’s privatization scheme encompasses not just 1,000 but up to 10,000 institutions, primarily those with superior infrastructure. They have raised the question as to why the government is not transferring schools with subpar infrastructure to the UK-based NGO for renovation, and posit that the move will lead to further degradation of the quality of education across the province.
Critics are also questioning the caretaker government’s jurisdiction in instituting a policy which affects thousands of schoolchildren and teachers from the most vulnerable segments of society.
Speaking to Voicepk.net, a female teacher belonging to a rural area of Punjab said that parents have a hard time paying even Rs20 for their children’s public school fees, and now it will be even harder for them to pay an increased fee once the schools are privatized.
According to Ghulam Mohiuddin, President of the PTU, the demands of the teachers are not limited to the privatization of schools, but the reduction in teachers’ pensions is also a reason for the protest.
According to the notification issued by the government, official employees will not get receive their pensions as per their basic pay but will get a certain percentage of the average of the last three months of comprehensive pay of their service. This reduction in pensions and leave encashment has magnified the worries of government teachers.
Leave encashment refers to one year’s worth of leave that an employee did not avail during their employment. At the time of retirement, the employee is given money equal to the unused leave, which is allocated from their running i.e. current salary. But as per the new measures of the caretaker Punjab government, the leave encashment is no longer based on the current salary, but instead on the initial salary which was allocated at the time of recruitment of the employee, regardless of how long back it was.
I gave 40 years of my life to the education sector, and every month around Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 35,000 was deducted from my salary in the name of gratuity, pension or GP (general provident) fund. I have only a few months left in my retirement, and now we are being economically murdered by the government. Lacs of rupees are being deducted from our pension and gratuity and what was rightfully ours is being taken away from us,
lamented a teacher in conversation with Voicepk.
Along with teachers, students are also protesting on social media. The students are appealing against the privatisation of schools.