Patna: The indefinite strike by thousands of mid-day meal cooks, locally known as rasoiya, in Bihar completed one month on Thursday. To further intensify their struggle, the rasoiyas have now threatened to gherao the Bihar Assembly next week during the budget session, if the state government does not invite them for talks.
Nutan Devi, Jhunia Devi, Savitri Devi and Tabassum Khatoon, all mid-day meal cooks, are angry over the government’s apathy in ignoring their one-month strike. They are four among 2.48 lakh mid-day meal cooks who are on indefinite strike since January 7 across the state.
“We have been striking for our genuine rights, including minimum wage and other benefits like social security and labour laws. But the Bihar government has neglected our democratic protest. This is unfortunate and exposed the much-hyped governance of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar” said Nutan Devi, who is a cook at the primary school in rural Patna.
Savitri Devi, who is a cook in a middle school in Arwal district, said, “We have been agitating peacefully and under constitutional rights. What surprises us is the government’s attitude of overlooking our 30-day strike”.
AICCTU leader Saroj Choubey, who is state president of Bihar Rajya Vidyalaya Rasoiya Sangh, said the state government’s double speak on women empowerment has come to the fore as most of the midday meal cooks are women, mainly from the poor and marginalised sections.
“The government has deliberately played its old game to leave the agitating mid-day meal cooks in the lurch by not inviting us even for talks. Fulfilling their demands is so far not in the agenda of the government. We will intensify our protest in the coming days”, she said.
CITU leader Vinod Kumar, president of Bihar Rajya Mid-day Meal Workers’ Union.t said the striking cooks will gherao the Bihar Assembly during the budget session beginning February 11, to put pressure on the government. ”We are still ready for talks and awaiting a call from the government. But the government is behaving like an autocrat. If the government continue like this, we will have no option other than gheraoing the State Assembly”.
CPI(M) state secretary Avadhesh Kumar also criticised the “stubborn” attitude of the Nitish Kumar government and said that was the main reason for mid-day meal cooks continuing their indefinite strike. He said the government was solely responsible for depriving over one crore school children, mostly from poor families, of nutritious meals. “The strike has resulted in directly impacting attendance in government-run schools,” he added.
In a circular issued to all district education officers on January 29, Binod Kumar Singh, special secretary, Department of Education, and director of Midday Meal Bihar, said payment to the cooks should not be made for the period of strike, and if they fail to immediately join work, they should be removed, and alternative arrangement should be made.
According to government data, there are 71,000 primary and middle schools in Bihar, which serve mid-day meals to 1.20 crore children.
Last month, braving bad weather, thousands of Bihar’s mid-day meal cooks – mostly women – staged a protest in Patna, demanding minimum wages of at least Rs 18,000 and other benefits. Last year too, the cooks had staged a protest in Patna and at other places in the state.