Promises Made By Modi, Khattar Unfulfilled, Anganwadi Workers Continue Strike in Gurgaon

Workers said that while their work has only been increasing, the incentives they were promised have not come through.

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Gurugram: Hundreds of anganwadi workers have come together in an agitation outside the Vikas Sadan near the Mini Secretariat office in Gurugram, demanding the payment of long due financial incentives promised by the Haryana government.

On December 29, 2021, Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, in a meeting with the office-bearers of the anganwadi workers’ union, announced that the monthly honorarium will be increased and the arrears for two years (2019-20 and 2020-21), along with an incentive of Rs 1,000 each, will be given to all anganwadi workers for working as frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, protesting workers, who have been on strike since December 8, 2021, say that the promises are not enough to drive them back to work. Their fight also finds its impetus in the lack of implementation of the increment in their honorarium, which was announced in September 2018 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This would lead to an increase in the monthly honorarium by Rs 1,500 for anganwadi workers and Rs 700 for anganwadi helpers. The protesters are also demanding DA (dearness allowance) on a regular basis on the pattern of government employees. In 2018 as well, anganwadi workers had held a protest, demanding regularisation of their services. It was only this agitation that BJP leaders had announced the incentives which have not yet been implemented, further stirring protests in the region.

Speaking to The Wire, Babita, convener, Haryana Anganwadi Worker and Helper Union, said that thousands of anganwadi workers were protesting against the government, which was now backtracking on its own promises. Babita also claimed that the Haryana government was threatening workers with termination notices and terming their protests as obstacles in government work.

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She continued, “Anganwadi worker aur helper desh ki reed ki haddi hai, hum garbhawati mahila ki bhi dekh-bhaal kartay hain, aur bacha ho jaane ke baad, uss bacche ka bhi 6 saal tak data maintain karte hain. Shaadi se le kar mrityu tak ki zimmedaari hum dekhte hain (Anganwadi workers and helpers are the backbone of this country, we look after pregnant women, and when the child is born, we look after the child as well. We maintain this data).”

Employed under the government’s Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), anganwadi workers and helpers cater to concerns related to children’s education and health in the 0-6 years age group. These workers and helpers not only collect data around children’s growth and education, but distribute ration to pregnant women and mothers, along with providing them information about vaccinations, healthcare and sanitation.

On January 21, Krishna Yadav, 43, received her termination letter from the Gurgaon District Programme Office, ICDS. Yadav, who has served the ICDS as a worker for 16 years, says she has been targeted like 50 other women who sat for the protests and were terminated. Yadav claimed that the ICDS is extremely ill-equipped and has laden the workers with tasks that they are not trained to undertake.

“Data entry, excel sheet documentation – we know nothing [about this], yet we manage these tasks somehow and still we are denied incentives that the prime minister and chief minister have publicly announced,” Yadav told The Wire.“When we demand our officially announced hike, we are told that we are not government employees and are only employed under a scheme. But then why are we pressurised with work that is beyond our educational understanding?”

The protesting anganwadi workers. Photo: Tarushi Aswani

Yadav claimed that workers are being forced to do tasks concerned with other departments as well. She also explained how over the years, many anganwadi workers assisted the government with census data collection, sanitation surveys, postal scheme awareness and recently COVID-19 relief and even vaccine assistance, yet only ASHA workers were being lauded.

“Sarkar kaam thopti hai hum par, par woh yeh nahi sochte ki humein training aur sadhan nahi diya gaya hai, na sarkari karamchari banaya gaya hai. Humari kamaai utni hi hai, par kaam badhta chala jaa raha hai. Yeh sarkar ki damankari neeti hai (The government is forcing work on us, but they don’t realise that we have no training, no data collection means, neither do we get the perks enjoyed by government employees. We earn a meagre amount but our work keeps increasing. This is the government’s oppressive politics),” said Yadav.

Haryana anganwadi workers and helpers, who are entitled to a monthly honorarium of Rs 12,000 and Rs 6,000 respectively, claim that it has become a habit of the government to betray them, as most of them belong to the economically weaker classes.

Standing in front of a sea of shawl-clad women who are shivering in the cold is 51-year-old Saraswati, who has been sloganeering for about three hours now. On this cold and foggy winter morning, her call – “Inquilab zindabad” – moves other protestors to return the slogan. Sarawati, state chief of the Haryana Anganwadi Worker and Helper Union, explained that in 2018, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ programme and chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar had announced an increase in their allowances.

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The protesters have also alleged that Khattar had announced in 2018, during the assembly session, that the government would give skilled workers’ status to anganwadi workers and unskilled workers’ status to helpers. But in a recent meeting with the workers, he backtracked from this statement, the protestors claim.

“Khattar Sarkar ko sharam aani chahiye, moorkh mukhya mantri hai, jisko pata hi nahi skilled worker kon hai, unskilled worker kon hai. Modi aur Khattar dono ne apne mou say wada kia aur dono hi mukar gaye (The Khattar government should be ashamed of itself, he is a silly chief minister who claims to not understand the difference between skilled and unskilled workers. Both Modi and Khattar promised us and both have backtracked now),” said Saraswati.

“Modi ji ka waada jab tak poora nahi hota, hum nahi hilengay yahan say, kamzor tapke ke worker ko dabaa raha hai shaasan, yeh seedha saadha shoshan hai (Until Modi fulfils his promise, we are not going to give up. The government is pressuring the weaker sections among workers, this is textbook exploitation),” she added.

The government maintains that anganwadi workers are not government employees, and as workers employed under the ICDS scheme, they can only earn an honorarium. The Wire contacted Rajbala Kataria, joint director (ICDS) seeking her response on the matter, but Kataria refused to respond at the time.

The anganwadi workers and helpers’ unions have also expressed their discontentment towards the recent announcement that the promotion of workers to the post of supervisor will only be achieved through a written exam.

Tarushi Aswani is a freelance journalist based in Delhi. She tweets at @tarushi_aswani.