New Delhi: Chanda, a dalit woman from Mewat, wept while remembering her husband who died in 2011. She has been taking care of her two daughters and a minor son since then. Chanda works as a mid-day meal worker at a government-run primary school in Haryana. Today, for the first time, she joined hundreds of her fellow mid-day meal workers to protest against the “anti-worker” policies of the Narendra Modi government at Jantar Mantar, to raise their demands and in solidarity with 2.48 lakh mid-day meal workers from Bihar who have been on an indefinite strike since January 7.
Speaking to Newsclick, Chanda said, “Main saat saal se school mei kaam kar rahi hu. Bartan dhoti hu, safai karti hu, staff ko khana deti hu. Aur uske badle mujhe mahine ka 2500 milta hai. Usmein mei apna ghar kaise chalaun, bachon ko kaise padaun. Bihar mei hamari behne protest kar rahi hai. Aaj hum unka saath dene yahan aaye hai aur hamare maangon ke liye bhi awaz uthane aaye hai. Modi ji ka bacha aur parivar nahi hai lekin hamara toh hai. (I am working as a midday meal worker at a primary school since last 7 years. I wash utensils, clean the school. I wash 150 utensils four times a day and I receive 2500 for this work. How can I run my family with this amount? In Bihar, our sisters on strike, we stand with them.)
Nearly 26 lakh workers, mostly women belonging to backward sections, are employed in the mid-day meal programme, which was designed to provide nutritious meals to crores of school-going children.
The mid-day meal workers work at least 6-8 hours every day and are yet not recognised as workers. They are paid a pittance of Rs 1,000-2,500 a month and that too for only 10 months in a year, devoid of any social security.
Speaking to Newsclick, AR Sindhu, Vice president, Midday Meal Workers Federation and Secretary Centre of Indian Trade Unions, said, “The struggle of mid-day workers has been going on for a long time. Today, workers from all over the country are protesting in their states in solidarity with the protesting workers of Bihar. Since this scheme has been launched, the workers have been asking for minimum wages. The workers mostly belong to backward section of society and the wages they receives are paltry. During the 2013 labour conference, the government had given a written assurance that the demands of the workers will be implemented. But nothing has been implemented so far.”
During the 45th Indian Labour Conference held in May 2013, it was recommended that the mid-day meal workers should be recognised as workers, paid minimum wages and social security, including pension. The Human Resource Development Ministry had assured them that demands will implemented, but nothing has been done so far. The major demands of the workers were:
- Increase in remuneration up to minimum wages.
- Salary for all 12 months instead of 10
- 180 days paid maternity wages
- Stop Privatisation of the Mid Day Meal Scheme
The workers accused the Modi government of trying to privatise the mid-day meal scheme by handing it over to the corporate NGOs. “There is a close nexus between the corporates and government. Corporates like Nandi Foundation, Vedanta and others have been roped in,” said Jai Bhagwan, General Secretary of the mid-day meal workers federation.
The workers, who were determined to carry forward their struggle, expressed their anger against the Modi government with clenched fists and slogans renting the air. Jo sarkar Nikami hai, woh sarkar badalni hai, (Change the government that does not work) they said in unison.