More than 2 lakh Anganwadi workers working in more than 1.1 lakh Anganwadis in Maharashtra have started their strike struggle from 12th September’17. They are demanding that they be treated as human beings. They are demanding that they be treated on par with government workers and also demanding a salary hike as per their seniority. They are demanding that the minimum salary for a fresh recruit should be of Rs.7000/- per month going up to Rs.13,000/- per month for those who have been doing this work for the last 20 years. Currently they get a salary in the range of Rs.3500/- to Rs.5000/- per month. They are also demanding that they should be eligible for pension which was promised to them in 2005 by the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra.
Anganwadi is a type of rural mother and child care centre in India. They were started by the Indian government in 1975 as part of the Integrated Child Development Services program to combat child hunger and malnutrition.A typical Anganwadi centre provides basic health care in Indian villages like contraceptive counseling and supply, nutrition education and supplementation, as well as pre-school activities. The centres are also used as depots for oral rehydration salts, basic medicines and contraceptives.They are a part of the Indian public health care system.
India has among the highest child malnutrition rates in the world and poorest learning outcomes. Hence the government should actually multiply its efforts to augment child care with the help of Anganwadi workers. Instead of that, since 2015, the central budget for ICDS has been stagnant and decreasing in real terms.
The central government has always maintained that they are ‘voluntary’ workers and therefore what they are paid is an ‘honorarium’ and not a salary. The honorariums were revised last by the government in 2011 to Rs. 3,000 for workers and Rs. 1,500 for helpers. Many state governments make additional contributions to this amount.
Experts as well as activists have highlighted that these workers are overburdened and underpaid. Anganwadi workers and helpers also work under very hostile conditions: the infrastructure is poor; the supply of food (through central contracts in most places) is irregular and of poor quality, education material is inadequate, honorarium is delayed and so on. Many times when the funds for nutrition are delayed Anganwadi workers spend money from their own pockets. In such conditions what is ultimately affected are the services for young children, as well as for pregnant and lactating women.
Anganwadi workers and helpers are the backbone of this system and their role needs to be acknowledged. If governments are serious about protecting rights of young children, they must respect the role that frontline workers such as Anganwadi workers and helpers play. The first step towards this would be to remunerate them adequately.
In the recent past the Anganwadi workers of Andhra Pradesh, TamilNadu,Karnataka, and Delhi have fought for their right to livelihood. Recently Delhi Anganwadi workers won some of their demands after a heroic fight for more than 2 months.
Instead of accepting the just demands of Anganwadi workers of Maharashtra, the state government tried many tactics to sabotage their struggle. The State government tried to use ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) workers to take up the responsibility of Anganwadi workers. But that tactic failed since Anganwadi workers take care of needs of more than 56 lakh children spread in tens of thousands of villages spread across the length and breadth of Maharashtra. Then government unilaterally declared a meagre rise in the remuneration stating that some unions have agreed to the proposal. But this attempt also failed miserably and Anganwadi workers continued their strike. Some of the Government Ministers have gone on record citing funds constraint as the hurdle. But the fighting workers have correctly asked the question, “If you can write off lakhs of crores of loans to about 1000 capitalists, how can you not have a few hundred crores to take care of more than 56 lakh children’s welfare?” Now thegovernment has instigated a Public Interest Litigation against the striking workers which is pleading to declare the strike as illegal under MESMA, citing that Anganwadi work is an “Essential service”. A lot of propaganda is being done in the media as to how due to the strike thousands of malnourished children are facing threats to life. But all this has in fact boomeranged on the government itself. This in fact has highlighted the fact that Anganwadi workers are performing an extremely crucial task for the people.
Anganwadi workers are getting support from all sections of society both in urban and rural areas.