Special needs teachers in Tamil Nadu have staged a hunger strike against the way they are being treated by the state government. The teachers have not had a pay rise since 1998 and their monthly salary is about $200. Yet these are teachers doing highly specialised work, most of them post-graduates with Bachelor of Education degrees. They are expected to travel long distances to give extra help to the 54,000 children with additional needs which have been identified in the state.

The teachers were originally employed under the SSA (Education For All) scheme - a typical 'reform' measure, following on from similar schemes dreamed up by the World Bank, which claimed to spread education to all children in India, but failed miserably. Moreover the scheme has a long record of employing teachers on temporary contracts and low pay. It also involves teachers in vast amounts of bureaucracy and additional duties which take them away from their core task of teaching children. Ironically they are then blamed for being absent from the classroom.

In the case of the Integrated Education for Disabled scheme under SSA, which originally employed the teachers, the government left it up to the states to implement it. In other words, as in so many countries, governments pay lip service to inclusion but fail completely to fund it. So in Tamil Nadu the teachers are not on proper contracts and their conditions and pay are bad. And of course the people who are suffering are both the children who need help and the teachers who are doing their best under almost impossible circumstances. The situation is so bad that earlier this month one female special needs teacher attempted suicide because of what she described as the 'mental torture' meted out by the employers.