Patna: Ignoring the cold wind and semi-cloudy sky, over 10,000 Bihar midday meal cooks on Wednesday, January 23 began their two-day protest to gherao Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s official residence, in the state capital demanding minimum wage and other benefits like social security and labour laws. More midday meal cooks will join the protest on Thursday as they are on their way.
“At present, more than 10,000 Bihar midday meal cooks from 13 out of 38 districts of Bihar are staging protest at Gardanibagh, a site for protests in Patna. These protestors will continue on their dharna on Thursday. They will spend the night under the open sky and will cook and sleep on the roadside on Thursday night,” CITU leader Vinod Kumar, president of Bihar Rajya Midday Meal Workers’ Union, said.
At the site of protest, Vinod told NewsClick, “By tomorrow, January 24, the number of protesting midday meal cooks will reach 50,000 as nearly 40,000 cooks from 25 other districts will join the protest to gherao CM.”
They are coming by trains, buses and small vehicles on their own to join the protest, which has become a fight for their survival.
He added, “If the state government ignores our two-day protest and fails to accept the demands of the protesting midday meal cooks, there is no other way to intensify the protest.”
Hundreds of protesting cooks, mostly women, are busy singing folk songs to narrate their struggle, miseries and problems at the protesting site.
More than 2 lakh midday meal cooks, who have been on indefinite strike for the last 16 days in Bihar, had last week announced the decision to gherao Nitish Kumar’s official residence on January 23 and 24, Vinod said.
Also Read: Indefinite Strike by 2 Lakh Mid-Day Meal Cooks Hits Attendance in Bihar Schools
The ongoing indefinite strike of mid-day meal cooks, locally known as rasoiya, since Januray 7, has badly hit the scheme in the government-run schools. As a result, there has been no midday meal for hundreds of thousands of children, in turn, drastically decreasing attendance. This has been admitted by school principals, teachers and even the education department officials.
Honorarium Least Among Several States
The government pays only Rs. 1,000 a month to 2,48,000 cooks in over 70,000 government primary and middle schools in the state. About 90% cooks are women in Bihar. Most of them are widows from the BPL (below poverty line) category as well as marginalised and depressed sections of the society. They belong to the poorest of the poor background but government’s treatment of them is still pathetic.
AICCTU leader Saroj Choubey, who is state president of Bihar Rajya Vidhalya Rasoiya Sangh, said, “The cooks were getting Rs. 5,500-7,500 in Tamil Nadu, Rs. 4,500-6,000 in Kerala and similar amount in Pondicherry and Lakshadweep, but in Bihar they are paid far less and irregularly.”
The indefinite strike began under the banner of Bihar Rajya Madhayan Bhojan Rasoiya Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti. It is a joint struggle of different federations and associations of mid-day meal workers supported by four trade unions - Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), The All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) and All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU).
Angry over the government’s apathy to their on-going protest, the striking midday meal cooks had staged protest with hand-made bread in their hands at a function before Nitish Kumar in Sitamarhi district last week. There were protests in Munger and Saharsa districts as well.
The protesting workers said that they have been fighting for their rights for a long time for higher honorarium, government employee status, and minimum wage of Rs.18,000 per month till they are declared as government employees. Last year too, the cooks had staged a protest in Patna and other places in the state.
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