ESMA imposed on Anganwadi workers’ struggle

On March 10, the lieutenant governor of Delhi ordered the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) to be imposed against protesting Anganwadi workers.

Anganwadi_Delhi_400Tens of thousands of Anganwadi workers and helpers have been protesting in Delhi since January this year, demanding an increase in their honorarium as well as fulfilment of their other long-standing demands. On January 31 more than 22,000 Anganwadi workers and helpers from all over Delhi gathered at the headquarters of the Delhi government, to demand better pay and working conditions. They have continued to protest daily, militantly raising slogans such as: “Ladenge, Jeetenge!” (We will fight and we will win), “Nahi darenge dhamki se, Kheech lenge kursi se!” (We won’t be scared by your threats, we will extract our dues). On March 8, International Women’s Day, tens of thousands of Anganwadi workers and helpers, together with working women of other sectors, participated in a huge demonstration at Raj Ghat.

Following the LG’s orders, the services of Anganwadi workers have been declared an “essential” service and their strike “illegal”. ESMA prohibits them from going on strike for the next 6 months.

Communist Ghadar Party denounces this attack on the striking Anganwadi workers and helpers. We express our wholehearted support for and solidarity with the striking workers.

Anganwadi workers and helpers provide vital door-to-door services for the working-class families, especially children, pregnant and lactating mothers, the sick and the aged. The various community services provided by them include supplementary nutrition, immunization, health check-up and referral services, non-formal pre-school education and nutrition & health education. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Anganwadi workers and helpers risked their lives to provide vital services to the people, despite not being provided proper protective gear by the government.

The Anganwadi workers and helpers continue to be severely exploited and oppressed, despite their long and persistent struggle over several years. They are not recognised as government employees or paid salaries as per the state government pay-scales. They are paid an honorarium which is far below the minimum wages. At present, Anganwadi workers and helpers in Delhi receive a meagre honorarium of Rs 9,698 and Rs 4,839, respectively. They are denied any kind of retirement benefits.

The Anganwadi workers are demanding an increment in their honorarium to Rs 25,000 for Anganwadi workers and Rs 20,000 for helpers. They are demanding payment of arrears for 39 months – from October 2018 to January 2022 – of the honorarium hike that the PM had announced. They are demanding fixed working hours, retirement benefits, paid leave, travel allowance, Provident Fund (PF) and medical benefits under Employees’ State Insurance (ESI). As frontline workers in the pandemic, they have been demanding that the government ensure their safety and bear the medical expenses for those workers affected with COVID-19. They have called for an end to their “begari” (forced labour), where they are treated as slaves and threatened with the termination of their jobs at the whims of the authorities.

The struggle of the Anganwadi workers and helpers is entirely just. Successive governments, at the center and in the states, have consistently ignored their demands.

The Delhi State Anganwadi Workers and Helpers Union (DSAWHU), which is leading the struggle, is legally contesting the imposition of ESMA, since Anganwadi workers are not recognised as government workers and their services are considered “voluntary”. While being forced to temporarily suspend the strike, the union has announced its plans to continue the struggle in other forms.

They have announced that if ESMA is not revoked by the court, they will “violate ESMA through civil disobedience and resume the strike”. They will boycott the BJP which is in charge of the central government, and the AAP which is in charge of the Delhi government, in the upcoming Delhi municipal elections. They will actively protest to prevent the BJP and AAP candidates from campaigning in the areas where they work.


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