The distinguished Bengali author, Syed Mujtaba Ali wrote a short story named 'Padotika' (Footnote) where he painted a gloomy picture of how the teachers were living under most appalling conditions in British India. The abolition of the Toll and Maktab systems of education prevalent among the Hindus and the Muslims on the Subcontinent gave birth to East India Company's schools where the Bengali and Sanskrit knowing pundits were used to getting salaries lesser than that of a chaprasi (A junior office worker who carries messages). Mujtaba Ali's story features such a pundit whose monthly salary amounted to 25 taka in all by which he had to rear a family of eight members. On an occasion of the laat sahib's visit to the school, the pundit, humorously and poignantly gave an account of his meagre income by comparing it to the amount of money worth 75 taka that would have been spent monthly on the rearing of the laat sahib's three-footed pet dog. The aggrieved pundit showed by an arithmetical calculation that his salary, which he would spend on his Brahmin wife, the old mother, the three marriageable daughters, the widowed aunt, the maidservant and himself, was three times less than the amount spent on the three-footed dog and equal to that spent merely on its one foot.
I am feeling tempted to cite another example of salary discrimination in British India. Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, on his return from London with BSC degree in 1885, joined the Calcutta Presidency College as a professor of physics. The salary of the Indian professors was then worth two third of that of the English professors. Since Bose had been serving on a temporary basis, his salary was only one third. However, in protest of this discrimination, he continued serving three years without any salary, and finally compelled the British government to make his job permanent and pay off all his dues.
The British has quitted India. The Pakistanis too were compelled to quit. But the legacy of undermining the position of the teachers is still nagging at us. The whole nation, to its utter shock, witnessed how an assistant professor of a public college in Pirojpur was put over an assistant commissioner's knee for the former's alleged insubordination (9 April 2015). It was the teacher's fault that he had the impertinence to ask the magistrate, the Justice of the peace, his identity. The teacher is, however, senior to the magistrate by age and length of service. But nothing could save the poor teacher's dignity from the wrath of our bureaucratic gods who are always arrogant and high-handed in their dealings with people. The poor professor had to save his job by knelling in supplication.
The overbearing bureaucrats' arrogance knew no limits when the freedom fighter Ayub Khan, former commander of Satkania unit of Chittagong, committed suicide in a residential hotel in the capital after being insulted by the secretary of the Liberation War Affairs Ministry (7 July 2015). The deceased's handwritten suicide note may well authenticate the fact. What can be the bigger cost of the dignity of a freedom fighter?
We know for sure that nothing will happen to these mighty agents of bureaucracy held responsible for this couple of deliberate cruelties inflicted on the innocent people. They are the pampered children of the government. They grease the wheels of the state de facto. So, when it comes to bringing them to justice, the whole system would leap to their defence and justice would cry in the wilderness. They preserve every right to get preferential treatment from the state itself. They are the makers of things and hence the main beneficiaries of them.
The proposed eighth pay scale is a shining example of strong bias towards the bureaucrats and against the varsity teachers. It has deprived the teachers to the nth degree. Even the status given to them in the 7th Pay Scale was way far better. The present scale has heavily downgraded the teachers' dignity because of the senior professors' exclusion from the secretarial grade. If remains unaltered, it is going to take heavy tolls on the varsity teachers in general.
An independent pay structure for the public university teachers has been a long-standing demand in Bangladesh. The National Education Policy 2010 had recommended a separate pay scale for the teachers. The University Grants Commission, too, has recommended a 'lucrative salary structure' and other fringe benefits to attract outstanding students to teaching profession. The Federation of Bangladesh University Teachers' Association (FBUTA) has long been pressing the government to increase the salary of university teachers at least to the level of that of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The education minister, Nurul Islam Nahid always seems to be taking a pro-teacher stance in regard to their salary and status. He has brought the issue to the notice of the president and prime minister and sent DO letters to all concerned including Cabinet secretary and public administration secretary.
But there seems to be no clear light yet at the end of the tunnel. The 8th pay scale has been ready and waiting for implementation paying no heed to the university teachers' silent cry. The poor teachers are trying, by way of polite and non-violent campaign, to give fresh momentum to their just demand. They are looking forward to falling back on the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina. Only she can bring hopes that the crisis can be resolved without resort to the unexpected. It calls for her intervention to restore the dignity of the varsity teachers. On numerous occasions, she has expressed her concern over them. Her father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the leading promoter of our higher education and performed yeoman service for upholding the dignity of the public university teachers by introducing the 1973 Acts at all the universities during his tenure. His worthy successor, our present premier, Sheikh Hasina too has done a lot for the teaching community in general. It is she, who has extended the age of the university teachers' superannuation to 65. Her government has made a major breakthrough in all tires of education-from primary to tertiary. The free distribution of textbooks to more than 30 million schoolchildren on the first day the school year for the last several years has been unprecedented in the history of Bangladesh. Her government has remarkably increased the growth of literacy by creating fresh institutions and incentives. It has introduced, through UGC, the globally acclaimed Self-Assessment and Quality Assurance system to our public and private universities to make them centres of excellence and prepare them for international accreditation. This is going to be a big challenge for the government and mostly hinges on the restoring the university teachers' status, protecting their salary and, above all, saving them from bureaucratic domination.
We keep our fingers crossed. We hope against hope that good sense must prevail upon hegemonic control. Our university teachers made supreme sacrifice for the creation of today's Bangladesh. Most of the martyred intellectuals of 1971 were erstwhile varsity dons. If properly taken care of, they now can greatly contribute to the making of the much coveted secular democratic Bangladesh free from militancy and fanaticism, and thereby can help her reach the Visions 2021 and 2041!r
Dr Rashid Askari writes fiction and column, and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University, Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]