People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 24, 2008
A Red Stream Of Anganwadi Workers Throng Delhi
PROCESSIONS and dharnas are a common feature in the national capital, particularly during the parliament sessions. But what Delhi witnessed on February 18, 2008 was a unique procession. More than ten thousand anganwadi workers and helpers in red and white dress, the red flags of CITU in their hands and the red caps of AIFAWH on their heads marched on the streets of Delhi. This red stream of anganwadi employees from all over the country - they came from 21 states - Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Pondicherry, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal - marched from the Ramlila maidan to Jantar Mantar. There was no representation from two states - Jammu and Kashmir, because roads in several parts of the state were blocked due to the snowfall; and Tripura because of the elections to the state assembly, scheduled on February 23, 2008. What is significant was the huge response from the anganwadi employees from the Hindi speaking states, who participated with great enthusiasm in their red sarees and kurtas.
The anganwadi employees who gathered in Delhi under the banner of the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH), wanted to present a memorandum to the prime minister, yet again, with the demands that the Federation has been raising since the last several years. They collected more than two crores of signatures from the anganwadi employees as well as the beneficiaries and common people all over the country, which reflects the popular support for their demands. Disappointed with the attitude of the prime minister who could not spare a few minutes to listen to their demands, they burnt the effigy of the central government and expressed their resentment.
The meeting at Jantar Mantar was presided by Neelima Maitra, president of the AIFAWH. She decried the government's apathy towards the anganwadi employees who were rendering important services for the poor children and women in the villages, tribal areas and urban slums. She opposed the attempts of the government to resort to backdoor privatisation of the ICDS in the name of public private partnership and warned of stronger struggles against any such moves.
Md Amin, general secretary of CITU and MP told that he raised the demands of the anganwadi employees in the parliament. But, the government, which did not have any financial constraints in granting huge tax concessions and benefits to the rich, strangely cites lack of financial resources to meet the demands of the poor anganwadi employees. The UPA government was following the same anti people and anti worker policies as the BJP led NDA government. If it does not fulfil its pro people commitments in the NCMP, it would meet the same fate as the NDA, he said.
Brinda Karat, member of the Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) and MP congratulated the anganwadi employees for their sustained struggles on their most genuine demands. She strongly criticised the government for its stock reply in the parliament that it was considering the recommendations of the Review Committee, which were submitted long back. Recalling that the prime minister assured a delegation of the Federation led by her around a year back, she said that it was unfortunate that the government did not take any action on the assurances given by none other than the prime minister. She also read out the written reply to her letter, by the Women and Child Development minister, Renuka Chowdhury, in which the minister told that the government was considering increasing the remuneration to the anganwadi workers and helpers and improving their working conditions. This was written around one and half years back but nothing was done till now. On the other hand, the workload on the anganwadi employees was going on increasing. Brinda assured that CPI(M) would raise the issue strongly in the ensuing session of the parliament and also mobilise the support of all the MPs irrespective of their parties.
Tapan Sen, secretary, CITU and MP lambasted the government for its insensitivity towards the demands of the anganwadi employees. The UPA government has presented four budgets but none had any provision for increasing the remuneration of the anganwadi employees and providing them with social security benefits. If it failed to provide any relief in its last budget, then it must be ready to face the consequences, he said.
Dipankar Mukherjee, secretary of CITU, Hemalata, general secretary and AR Sindhu, treasurer of AIFAWH and the leaders of the anganwadi employees from different states also addressed the gathering.
Hemalata reminded that while the prices of all the essential commodities have increased several times, the remuneration of the anganwadi workers and helpers remained at Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 per month since the last six years. She demanded that the remuneration be immediately increased to Rs 3,000 and Rs 2,000. She also demanded payment of Rs 1 lakh to the workers and Rs 50,000 to the helpers who were severed from service on reaching 58 years. She warned the government of stronger struggles if the genuine demands of the anganwadi employees were not met.
The working committee of the Federation, which met on February 18 - 19 in BT Ranadive Bhawan in Delhi decided to intensify the efforts to put pressure on the government to fulfil the assurances of the prime minister. It called upon the anganwadi employees to organise sector and project level demonstrations/ dharnas etc., and burn the effigies of the government on March 1 - 7, 2008, if there was no positive response from the government in the Budget presented on February 29, 2008. It also decided to launch massive campaign opposing the moves of the government to privatise ICDS in the name of public private partnership and 'adoption' of the anganwadi centres by the big corporate houses.
The working committee discussed the reports on the various changes that were already being brought in the ICDS in different states, as per the directions of the World Bank. It was generally observed that instead of improving the functioning of the anganwadi centres, these changes were leading to tensions between the anganwadi employees and the community and increasing the workload and harassment on the anganwadi employees; it was also leading to corrupt practices and irregular supply of the nutritious food. The working committee decided to concretise the stand of the AIFAWH towards these changes in its next secretariat meeting. It condemned the attitude of the government, which was holding consultations with the Word Bank officials, NGOs, some academicians etc., in the name of stake holders and making changes based on their recommendations. It was completely ignoring the real stakeholders - the anganwadi employees, the key functionaries, who were implementing the ICDS and the women, the unorganised sector workers, the agricultural workers and the poor kisans, who constituted the beneficiaries. It has reiterated its demand that the government must consult the organisations of the anganwadi employees, the central trade unions and the organisations of the beneficiaries like the women's, agricultural workers' and kisan's organisations, before making any changes in the ICDS in the name of 'reforming' it.