The protests of Karnataka midday meal workers who have continuously been on the streets against the government’s effort to privatise the scheme, have finally bagged victory, despite the efforts of the police force to disrupt the movement.
The Karnataka State Midday Meal Workers’ Association, had called for an indefinite strike from February 3, and put forward a 12 point charter of demands that includes hike in remuneration and minimum monthly wages. Even after resorting to every possible method to suppress the strike, the state government was forced to agree to hold a meeting with the workers on February 13 to discuss their demands.
As per the strike call, more than 10,000 midday meal workers from all across the state reached the Freedom Park in Bengaluru defying the orders of the police, which had reportedly imposed section 144 banning the gathering. In the meantime, thousands of workers who had reached various bus stands and railway stations were also prevented from leaving to Freedom Park.
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Not only that, since Sunday evening, the police had started detaining those trade union leaders who were leading the protest, while others were kept under house arrest. When the protesting workers arrived at the KSR station, the police cordoned them off. The workers were forced to sit at one place as well. The Yeshwantpur railway station and other bus stands across the city witnessed similar incidents. Several workers were also detained from the Yeshwantpur station when they tried to leave the station.
The police sources, however, reportedly said that they were following the order of the government to prevent the workers from demonstrating in the city.
On Monday, S Varalakshmi, president of Karnataka State Midday Meal workers’ Association and state president of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), was detained at around 7.30 in the morning and taken to the Jnanbharathi Police Station. Her mobile phone was also seized and was not returned to her till she was released at 5 PM.
“For more than 10 hours, police did not allow me to speak to the workers or anyone else. Is holding a demonstration undemocratic? The government clearly used police to browbeat our protest but the numbers say something else,” Varalakshmi said.
“Around 28 lakh midday meal workers, of which 99% are women, feed 12 crore children in the schools. They get payment of Rs 1,000 per month for ten months a year. Since 2009, there has been no increase in their remuneration by the central government. They get burnt, get bitten by snakes, in any of these cases, there are no medical benefits, no compensation, but their salary will be deducted,” said AR Sindhu, convenor of All India Coordination Committee of Midday Meal Workers, which is affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).
At present, cooks working under the scheme get Rs 2,700 every month and helpers get Rs 2,600. The workers also raised their opposition to the attempts of privatisation of the midday meal scheme. They demanded the discontinuation of agreements with NGOs like Akshaya Patra and others for supplying midday meals. Other demands include bringing midday meal workers under the Labour Department; provide PF and ESI benefits; provide Rs 7 lakh accidental relief and Rs 5 lakh death relief; provide salaries during Dussehra and summer vacation, etc.
As the meeting is scheduled for February 13, the workers have called off their strike till then. The workers, however, warned that they will resume the protest if the government fails to convene the meeting and address their demands.
Also read: Karnataka Mid-Day Meal Workers Protest, Demand Better Wages and Social Security