People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 22, 2007
Magnificent All India Strike By Anganwadi Employees
Anganwadi workers protesting the police lathicharge in Srinagar
HUNDREDS of thousands of anganwadi workers and helpers all over the country closed their centres and participated in protest demonstrations against the apathetic attitude of the UPA government towards their long pending demands. Around eight lakh anganwadi employees in the country participated in the strike. Severe police repression was unleashed in several states.
The call for the all India strike was given by the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH). The federation, which observes July 10 every year as All India Demands’ Day, decided to observe this year’s Demands’ Day by organising all India strike against the indifference shown by the UPA government. The response of the anganwadi employees to the strike call was unprecedented, reflecting their anger and resentment at the non implementation of the assurances given by none else than the prime minister.
The major demands of the anganwadi employees include i) converting ICDS into a permanent service and opening anganwadi centres in all human habitations, ii) regularising the services of the anganwadi workers and helpers as grade III and grade IV employees, and till these demands are fulfilled, iii) immediate enhancement of the remuneration of the anganwadi employees to Rs 3,000 per month for workers and Rs 2,000 for helpers, iv) consumer price index linked dearness allowance to all the anganwadi workers and helpers, v) provision of social security benefits like provident fund, pension, ESI, gratuity etc., and vi) ex gratia of Rs 1,00,000 and Rs 50,000 for workers and helpers who were being retired on reaching 58 years. Though the prime minister was not willing to recognise them as government employees, he reiterated the government’s commitment to universalise ICDS and agreed that the services provided through ICDS were required to be provided on a permanent basis, and that the remuneration paid to the anganwadi employees was very low. He assured that the government would increase their remuneration and that the assurance of providing ‘parting gift’ by the women and child development minister could be considered as that of the government.
But so far, these assurances have not materialised. The women and child development minister continues to ridiculously repeat the same thing whenever a question on anganwadi workers’ wages was asked in the parliament – that the government has ‘doubled’ it. The fact that this ‘doubling’ was done more than five years back is concealed. While the prices of all the essential commodities have been reaching the sky, the central government has not increased the remuneration of the anganwadi employees by even a paisa. Repeated reminders to the minister by the Left MPs yielded nothing more than empty promises. The thundering slogans of the ten thousand anganwadi employees who marched to the parliament and courted arrest too could not wake up the sleep pretending Kumbhakarna. This has provoked the anganwadi employees into going on the massive strike on July 10.
Though the AIFAWH has organised several all India strikes earlier and also participated in all the joint programmes of the central trade union organisations, the reports from all the state committees noted that their participation in this strike and in the different protest activities during this time was unprecedented.
For the first time, the anganwadi employees from Jammu and Kashmir participated in the strike organised by the AIFAWH. More than ten thousand anganwadi employees assembled in Sher-e-Kashmir park in Srinagar and marched towards the Lal Chowk. As they reached the Moulana Azad Road, the police burst tear gas shells and resorted to brutal lathi charge. They also used water cannons. More than 200 anganwadi employees were injured and more than 20, including Hasina Sophie, the president of the union were arrested. Maimuna Nazki, general secretary of the union and around 35 others had to be hospitalised. Many more fell unconscious. The entire attack was conducted by male police, under the directions of the SP, East Srinagar city, who himself led the attack. The police abused and misbehaved with the anganwadi employees. But none of this could deter them. The employees bravely fought back and not even a single employee left the scene. They sat on a dharna on the Residency road along with members of other trade unions demanding the release of their leaders. The police released the arrested leadership in the evening. It has been decided to file a case with the state women’s commission. A strong protest demonstration was held by the trade unions on July 14, demanding judicial probe and stern action against the police, particularly the SP, who were responsible for this inhuman attack of the peacefully protesting anganwadi employees.
In Punjab, the anganwadi employees held ‘rail roko’ in five centres – Ludhiana, Sangrur, Fatehgarh Sahib, Patiala and Rajpura, braving police lathi charge. Rasta roko was held in another 20 centres in the state. Effigies of the government were burnt in almost all the projects in the state. In Assam, total strike was observed in 16 out of the 27 districts in the state. In another four districts, the strike was partial in the sense that a few projects in the district did not participate in the strike. Thousands of anganwadi employees participated in demonstrations at the district level in Kamrup, Barpeta etc; in another 13 districts, demonstrations and picketing were held at the offices of the Child Development Project Officers. Police were deployed in large numbers but could not prevent the employees from staging protest actions. More than 25,000 anganwadi employees participated in the various activities associated with the strike.
In Madhya Pradesh, hundreds of anganwadi employees in Rewa carried the effigy of the UPA government on their shoulders and marched in the streets; they blocked the road, burnt the effigy upon which the police arrested all of them. Similar programmes and dharnas were held in the district headquarters in Gwalior, Bhopal and Jabalpur. Anganwadi employees joined the strike even in districts where the union was formed only recently, as in Anuppur, Sidhi, Sihar, Morena and Satna. In Haryana 50 percent of anganwadi centres were closed and around 15,000 anganwadi employees participated in the rasta roko held in different districts. The state committees of the union, CITU and the Sarva Karmachari Sangh widely campaigned about the strike, holding circle meetings. By participating in the strike in large numbers, the anganwadi employees in the state gave a slap on the face of the expelled former leaders, who have become the agents of the government and tried to dissuade them from joining the strike calling it ‘politically motivated’ and illegal.
In Himachal Pradesh the strike was total and district level demonstrations were held. In Rajasthan, thousands of anganwadi employees joined the strike, though the membership of the union is less than a thousand. Hundreds of anganwadi employees demonstrated in Sikar, Alwar, Jhunjhunu, Udaipur, Bikaner, Chittorgarh, Hanumangarh and Jaipur. Significantly, anganwadi employees even in the districts where the union does not exist participated in the strike and in the demonstrations. In Maharashtra, thousands of anganwadi employees closed their centres and participated in the demonstrations at the district level in around 15 districts. In Bihar, the strike was total in Darbhanga, Gaya and East Champaran etc; it was partial in Patna, Bhagalpur, Begusarai and Samastipur. The strike was complete in Rajnandgaon and Korba districts in Chattisgarh. Dharnas were held at the district level in which hundreds of anganwadi employees participated. Strike was also observed in Rajarrha, Raipur and some other places in the district. Large number of anganwadi employees participated in the strike in Jharkhand also and held a meeting in the district headquarters. In Uttar Pradesh, anganwadi employees in Moradabad, Bijnour and Rampur held meetings of the beneficiaries, explained their demands and sought their support. Workers struck work and held dharnas in Moradabad.
The strike was total in West Bengal, Tripura, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu. The strike was near total in Karnataka. Around 30,000 anganwadi employees participated in a massive rally in Rani Rashmoni road in Kolkata; the entire area was packed with the participants. In Tripura, divisional level demonstrations were held. In Kerala, district level demonstrations and project level demonstrations and burning of effigies were held. In Andhra Pradesh, demonstrations, burning of effigies etc., were held in all the mandal, project and district headquarters. In Kadapa, the chief minister’s home district, Congress workers threatened the anganwadi employees and unsuccessfully tried to prevent them from taking out a procession. In Nizamabad several workers were arrested. The anganwadi employees held a dharna in front of the police station and forced the police to release their colleagues. In Warangal district the police resorted to brutal lathicharge on the anganwadi employees, injuring many of them. Some had fractures and had to be hospitalised. In several other districts also police force was used to intimidate the anganwadi employees. The strike was observed in all the districts in Tamilnadu and thousands of anganwadi employees held dharnas and rasta rokos in almost all the district head quarters; demonstrations and dharnas were also held in front of many project offices. In Karnataka burning of effigies, protest demonstrations, dharnas etc., were held in most of the districts.
The significant feature of this strike was that anganwadi employees who were members of other unions and those who were not members of any union joined the strike in large numbers. The anganwadi employees not only closed their centres, but came out in larger numbers than ever before, to participate in the demonstrations.
Another important aspect was the support of the beneficiaries and the common people in the anganwadi centre areas. In most of the states, the anganwadi workers distributed leaflets, conducted meetings of the people in the area, particularly the beneficiaries, to explain their demands and seek their support. In many states, the beneficiaries wholeheartedly extended their support. The demand to make the ICDS a permanent service was appreciated by the people in general.
The success of the strike was also due to the extensive preparations made by the union and CITU state committees. In all the states, CITU state and district committees have extended active support and CITU state and district level leaders physically participated in the campaign as well as the various programmes on the day of the strike. The state government employees’ associations also extended similar help in some states like Haryana and Tamilnadu. In Tamilnadu the state and district coordination committees of working women actively participated in the campaign. Writing of articles, write ups in the journals of CITU and some other fraternal newspapers by CITU leaders also created a positive atmosphere for the strike and enthused the anganwadi employees. This encouraged many anganwadi employees who were outside the periphery of our unions to join the strike.
The federation which will meet on August 15-17, 2007 in Nagpur to conduct a mid term review of the implementation of the decisions of the last conference, will plan stronger campaigns and struggles involving more and more common people, along with the anganwadi employees on these demands.