Lucknow: At least 650 women employees of Mahila Samakhya, run by Department of Women and Child Development, Uttar Pradesh, have threatened to go on indefinite strike from Sunday in protest against non-payment of salaries for nearly 22 months as well as the closure of this village-level women’s empowerment programme.
In a letter to the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the Mahila Samakhya workers have requested that he instruct the chief secretary of the Women and Child Development department to release their pending salaries with immediate effect and reinstate their work.
"We came to know from today's newspapers that the state government has requested the Honourable High Court to give directions for speedy justice to the victims of women and child crime in the state. Earlier, the CM himself has instructed to run an effective special campaign for the safety of women and girls in the state on the occasion of Navratri on Twitter. The letter said that violence with women remains a subject of debate at the national level in the state and the government's image is also being tarnished. Be it the recent Hathras incident or the incidents of violence on women in Balrampur, Bulandshahar, Hapur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Bhadohi or Noida, crime against women are increasing these days in the state," read the letter
Protesting the closure of the programme, the letter added: "According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report itself, Uttar Pradesh is second in violence against women. The situation is so bad that more than half of the incidents of kidnapping of women and girls have taken place in Uttar Pradesh alone. One of the other reasons for this violence is that Justice J.S Verma committee which was constituted in the wake of Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case to prevent sexual, cultural and social violence on women, girls and children was destroyed in the state. A live example of this is the closure of the Mahila Samakhya, a program that makes women multidimensional security, respect and self-reliant.”
Preeti Srivastava, president of Karamchari Sangh Mahila Samakhya, Uttar Pradesh, said: "Mahila Samakhya, which roughly translates as “equal value to women”, is a central government programme launched in 1988 under the department of education of the Ministry of Human Resources Development.”
She said the aim of the scheme was not just to improve literacy among rural women but also empower them to solve their own problems through the formation of village-level collectives.
When Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, the Centre slowly stopped funding the scheme and two years later in April 2016, it was completely closed without any prior notice. “We met then chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and he ordered on January 9, 2017, to contain the programme under Women and Child Development of state but when Yogi Adityanath became chief minister, he ran the scheme for two years as it was a part of his election manifesto. He, too, stopped giving funds from October 2018. Since then we have not received a single penny," Srivastava added.
The Mahila Samakhya in UP engages close to 800 women workers. Functioning as an autonomous body under the Basic Education Department, UP, Mahila Samakhya was started as a new state-level programme of the Department of Women and Child Development from January 9, 2017. It was allotted a budget for 220 blocks of 19 districts in 2017-18.
Mahila Samakhya has been working on spreading awareness about the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013, the Dowry Prohibition Actz1961, and the smooth implementation of various Acts related to the children.
“Eight hundred families have been affected by the collapse of the scheme. Last year, four of our women employees fell sick and died. I believe they died because they could not get timely treatment,” Smriti Singh, state project director, Mahila Samakhya, told NewsClick, adding that the government had applauded them from solving over 20,000 domestic violence cases.
“Despite all its successes, however, the state government shut this programme down after March 31, 2016. In absence of government’s financial support for last 22 months, the scheme was shut down and we were left in the lurch,” she added.
According to Srivastava, several vital government schemes working towards the safety and empowerment of women in UP are languishing due to “government apathy” for over a year.
"The employees have staged numerous demonstrations, and have extensively corresponded with the authorities. The government seems to have turned a deaf ear," she claimed.