“I am not going to back down until the signatures are paid heed to by the mute and deaf government. In all of my existence, this government has proven to be the most anti-worker and anti-women government,” said Ravinder Kaur, an Anganwadi worker from Punjab. Thousands of other women like her, travelled great distances all to ensure that their voices get heard in the national capital today.
Carrying the signatures collected from their respective regions on their heads, marching hand in hand from Mandi House in the heart of Delhi to the Parliament Street, the workers united from across the states of Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh among others. The protesting workers chanted slogans against the unfair treatment of the workers and the government’s plan to privatise the Integrated Child Development Scheme services.
Speaking to NewsClick, Anjula, an Anganwadi worker from Himachal Pradesh, said, “We are the builders of this country, nourishing the children, teaching them to utter their first words, yet we are paid the lowest. I want to question the government why is this unfair treatment being meted to us?” She added, “We are paid the lowest, despite working for over eight hours per day. I get paid according to the whims and fancies of the central and the state governments.”
The protesters said that the government was doing all it can to privatise or shut down the centres. They explained that the Anganwadi workers were being asked to perform multiple duties which include election surveys, block level tasks and more, while being paid only a pittance.
Also Read: Anganwadi Workers Angry With Budget
The Modi government had in October promised the workers increased minimum wages on the occasion of Diwali, however, nothing was implemented on the ground. In keeping with his trend of false promises, the central government in March declared that the minimum wages of the Anganwadi workers and helpers have been increased. However, no concrete arrangements were made for the same in the interim union budget presented this month, which compelled the workers to take to the streets yet again.
Speaking to NewsClick, Tapan Sen, General Secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) said, “The government has outrightly betrayed and cheated the workers by not recognising their contribution or their rights. This will cost the Modi government heavily, ahead of the 2019 elections.”
Rani Devi, a worker from Secunderabad, said, “What do we do with Rs 4,000 per month. We do the same work as teachers in government schools. We are not asking for an honorarium but for a dignified pay. Are we not shaping the future of this country? Then why don't we get our rights like other workers?”
Also Read: For More than Two Months Now, Anganwadi Workers in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir are on Protest
Another worker, Rajkumari said, “The government has been unfair to us. I have been working for the past 34 years and I have been fighting since then. From Rs 170 to this, it has been a struggle, and now we are struggling to get our due pensions.”
AR Sindhu, General Secretary of the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers, said, “This is the first time that a government is leading an unprecedented attack on the social welfare of the people by aiming to privatise the essential ICDS services and by bringing in anti-worker measures such as the direct cash transfer scheme giving way to private players. The workers are demanding regular wages and pensions, and more importantly, social security. However, the government, instead of doing anything substantial for the workers, is only aiming to repress their voices.”
Shashi Tanwar Palwal, a worker from Haryana said, “We have been protesting since February 2, and instead of recognising our demands, the government through the local officers, is telling us not to attend meetings and is issuing warnings to us. Multiple ways are being used to stall our efforts.”
Also Read: Haryana Anganwadi Workers Held 3-day Tala Band Over Betrayal of Promises
Among other demands, the workers have consistently demanded that an ex gratia amount of Rs 3 lakh should be paid in the case of a death of a worker or a helper. The Anganwadi workers are also asserting that the promotion from helpers to workers and from workers to supervisors should be done on the basis of seniority. They have also highlighted that pensions and retirement benefits along with honorarium should be provided. Additionally, the creches which had been previously closed down by the government should be opened, and workers and helpers should be recruited.