MUZAFFARABAD: A “hunger strike unto death” by as many as 30 office-bearers of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir School Teachers Organisation (AJK STO) entered its second day on Tuesday with participants showing no signs of giving up until acceptance of their demands.
The hunger strike camp has been set up along a busy roundabout in Chattar neighbourhood, which houses almost all important government offices, including the PM Secretariat, Legislative Assembly and superior courts.
Sitting under a small canopy, Amir Firdaus Awan, secretary general AJK STO, told Dawn that their organisation had taken this decision at the end of its tether following the government’s “apathetic and callous” response to their demands notwithstanding a commitment by a ministerial team to them in June this year.
On June 21, AJK STO President Tasaf Shaheen and his colleagues had presented their ‘charter of demand’ at a press conference in Muzaffarabad where they had threatened to go on a hunger strike if no action was taken by the government by June 25.
However, Mr Awan said on June 25 a ministerial team had met and assured the STO office-bearers that the government would soon take measures for their satisfaction.
“Alas they had just paid lip service to us, as over the past five months, the government did not take a single step to address our concerns,” he said.
Mr Awan said their main demands were upgradation of pay scales and grant of time scale on the basis of length of service on a par with the provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan.
He said while the central office-bearers, drawn from all 10 districts, were on hunger strike unto death in the state capital, Muzaffarabad, symbolic hunger strikes were also being observed in Mirpur and Poonch divisions simultaneously.
According to him, on Tuesday, Rehmatullah Rathore, an office-bearer from Haveli district, had fainted in the camp and he was still under treatment at a nearby state-run health facility.
In response to a question, he said so far the STO did not want to disturb academic activities in educational institutions.
“However, if we are pushed to the wall, what other choice is left with us,” he added.
Mr Awan said the secretary education and directors of physical instruction (DPIs) had visited them on Monday and Tuesday, “but they too seemed to be bereft of any concrete commitments”.
“Something which had been given to us back in 2009 is not our lot even in 2022, which is very unfortunate,” Mr Awan said, making it clear that the teachers’ community would boycott duties in the upcoming local government elections if solid steps to meet their demands were not taken by the government.
Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2022.