Police on Thursday resorted to tear gas shelling and used baton charge and water cannons to prevent government teachers from moving towards Chief Minister House in Karachi to lodge their protest for a host of demands, according to witnesses and officials.
The teachers were calling for, among other things, promotions based a time-scale formula and a change in the management cadre.
Police claimed that they took this action after talks held between the teachers and government officials ostensibly failed, with the former bent upon holding a rally in the ‘Red Zone’ — a term used to denote the area surrounding Governor House and Chief Minister House.
Around 2,000 teachers gathered outside the Karachi Press Club (KPC) in the afternoon for a protest where office-bearers of Government School Teachers Association (GSTA) delivered speeches seeking the fulfilment of their demands.
GSTA president Ashraf Khaskehli and others who spoke on the occasion demanded that the teachers be assigned a ‘time-scale’, which implied that teachers with 24 years of service should be promoted to Grade-20.
They also demanded that the management cadre be changed and that Pakistan Administrative Service (PAS) officers not be appointed in the education sector.
A portion of Sarwar Shaheed Road leading to the KPC was already closed for traffic with contingents of police deployed on M.D. Wafai Road and other adjoining areas.
As the teachers tried to move towards Chief Minister House, police used tear gas shelling, water cannons and resorted to baton charge near the Arts Council roundabout.
SSP South Pir Mohammed Shah told sources that the teachers had announced on Wednesday that they would hold a demonstration outside Chief Minister House.
“We engaged them in talks to persuade them to restrict their protest outside the KPC as rallies in the Red Zone have been banned,” the senior officer said.
He revealed that representatives of the teachers held talks with the city commissioner and education secretary during which he (SSP South) had also been present.
The commissioner assured the teachers that the government was taking steps to address their legitimate demands and a summary to this effect has been prepared, according to the commissioner’s spokesperson.
The commissioner also urged the teachers to withdraw their protest call in view of forthcoming examinations.
SSP Shah said that the GSTA leaders left the meeting “satisfied”. However, when they reached the KPC, they announced that they were marching towards Chief Minister House.
“We used force, which was required under the circumstances to prevent around 2,000 teachers from holding a protest in the Red Zone and moving towards Chief Minister House,” said the officer.
He claimed that police only used tear gas shelling to disperse them. SSP Shah believed that no one was injured in the incident. He also said that no one was arrested during the action, a claim contradicted in a statement issued by the ruling PPP’s chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
In the statement, Bilawal was quoted as saying that the “detained teachers should be set free”.
GSTA president Khaskheli, meanwhile, claimed that as many as 200 teachers were detained during the police action, which he said also left 150 teachers injured including eight female educators.
Dr Seemin Jamali, executive director of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, told sources that two male teachers injured during the protest were brought in for treatment. They were discharged after being administered first medical aid.
Education Secretary Qazi Shahid Pervez was quoted by media as saying that holding a protest at the time of matriculation examinations was a “conspiracy”. He did not elaborate any further on his remarks.
The senior bureaucrat claimed that the teachers were continuously increasing their demands.
Later in the evening, the GSTA office-bearers announced a boycott of educational activities until the fulfilment of their demands.
Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari condemned the tear-gassing of protesting teachers by police, adding that such actions against the peaceful assembly of people were intolerable.
In a statement, the PPP chairman said that holding a peaceful protest was a democratic right accorded to every citizen. He said that the protest should have been handled peacefully and in a dignified manner and regretted the use of violence.
He stressed that the detained teachers be set free.