Towering protests spell big nuisance for Chandigarh VIP zone

Chandigarh, Nov 20 (IANS) This is one protest that has literally gone sky-high and is forcing authorities to look up to the protesters.

In the high-security zone of Chandigarh’s upscale Sector 3, which has the bungalows of the Punjab and Haryana Chief Ministers, ministers and other high-profile people, a bunch of protesters has become a nuisance for security agencies, having climbed atop mobile phone towers.

While two protesters have been sitting atop the mobile tower of Punjab Bhawan in Sector 3 since November 3, two women and a man have trespassed into a private bungalow and climbed a mobile tower located inside the compound three days back.

All the protesters are qualified teachers from Punjab who are seeking jobs from the Punjab government.

The protesters are Elementary Teacher Training (ETT) and Teacher Eligibility Test (TET)-qualified teachers, who are seeking jobs under the banner of the Unemployed Teachers Union of Punjab.

With assembly elections in Punjab just being over two months away, the protesters have chosen an opportune time and place to get their demand highlighted.

Despite the winter chill over the region and the night temperatures dropping to 8-9 degrees Celsius, the protesters are unyielding to pleas from local authorities, including the Chandigarh Police, to come down.

“The protesters are perched high on the mobile towers. The landings, on which they are sitting and sleeping, are just 2-3 feet wide. At night, it must be quite cold up there,” a Chandigarh Police constable, who has been stationed at the Punjab Bhawan protest site for the past few days, told IANS.

“They are refusing to come down until the Punjab Chief Minister (Parkash Singh Badal) meets them and gives them an assurance that they will get government jobs,” he said.

Taking no chances, the local authorities have stationed police vehicles and personnel, fire brigade vehicles, ambulances and doctors at both sites round the clock.

“We have tried to persuade the protesters to come down but they have refused,” Sector 3 police station chief Poonam Dilawari said.

Security agencies are worried that the mobile tower protests were a security risk to VIPs living in the area, three of them being Z-plus category protectees.

“This is a major nuisance and a big security breach. The Punjab Bhawan is visited by a number of high-profile protectees, including the Punjab Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister and other ministers,” a Chandigarh Police officer associated with the security wing told IANS.

“The second mobile tower (inside a private bungalow) directly looks into the official bungalow of the Haryana Chief Minister (Manohar Lal Khattar),” he said.

The protesters are Elementary Teacher Training (ETT) and Teacher Eligibility Test (TET)-qualified teachers, who are seeking jobs under the banner of the Unemployed Teachers Union of Punjab.

With assembly elections in Punjab just being over two months away, the protesters have chosen an opportune time and place to get their demand highlighted.

Harbans Kaur, the 80-year-old owner of the private bungalow in whose precincte the latest protest started on Thursday, is upset with the Punjab government and local authorities for the unnecessary attention and nuisance at her property.

Kaur even went to Chief Minister Badal’s residence, 500 metres from the mobile tower at her house, to demand that he should talk to the protesters. However, she was not able to meet him since he was away from the capital city.

Following a complaint from her, three protesters, including two women, have been booked by Chandigarh Police for trespass since the protesters cut barbed wire fencing of her residence to enter the property and climb up the mobile tower in the early hours.

The teachers on this tower have been identified as Harpreet Kaur and Jatinder Kaur, both from Punjab’s Bathinda town, and Tarlok Aulakh of Mansa. They have also been booked for attempt to suicide.

The Punjab Bhawan complex is guarded 24×7 by armed units of the Punjab Police and the outer ring is provided security by the Chandigarh Police. The Sector 3 police station, located in the midst of the sensitive security zone, is just a stone’s throw away.

Despite that, the first group of protesters, Deepak and Rakesh, have threatened to end their lives if they are not given jobs by the Punjab government. Both are believed to be carrying petrol in a bottle.

In recent years, protests atop mobile towers and community water tanks have become frequent, and even fatal, in Punjab.

Akin to what actor Dharmendra, who also incidentally hails from Punjab, did in the 1975 blockbuster movie “Sholay” to get his demands fulfilled, protesters, mostly unemployed youths seeking government jobs, have been literally taking their protests a notch higher.

Be it unemployed teachers, women, employees or other ‘protesting’ groups, community water tanks have become a rallying point for many of them in recent years.

The protesters just climb up the water tanks, some of them as high as 100 feet, and perch themselves there to press their demands. In recent years, protesters have climbed water tanks in Bathinda, Kapurthala and other places.

In certain cases, people have lost their lives while some have received injuries.

In June 2010, two unemployed women teachers were seriously injured when they jumped from the top of a 90-foot water tank near Bathinda town, 250 km from state capital Chandigarh.

A woman teacher, Kiranjit Kaur of Faridkot, had set herself on fire in Kapurthala town, 180 km from Chandigarh, in February 2010 after the state government failed to honour its promise to meet the demands of teachers under Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS).

She was one of the four protesting EGS women teachers who had climbed the tower-type water tank at the civil hospital complex in Kapurthala to press their demands. Having got 90 per cent burns, she later died of her injuries in a Ludhiana hospital.

In September 2007, nine teachers in Punjab, including five women, did the water tank stunt in Kapurthala town and threatened to jump if their arrested colleagues were not released.

Caught unawares, the local authorities roped in a local unit of the army to spread nets under the tank to save the teachers if they actually jumped. The authorities had to order release of 150 teachers arrested earlier.

While most protests are for genuine causes like getting jobs, such stunts are done even for surprising issues. In March 2012, under-trial prisoner Lakhwinder Pal climbed up the water tank inside the Gurdaspur Central Jail to lodge his protest. He was upset at not ebing allowed to smoke inside the jail. He demanded a cigarette!