(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
May 16, 2010
Magnificent ‘Mahapadav’ 0f Anganwadi Employees
of the anganwadi employees held recently by the All India Federation of
Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH) was indeed exhilarating. Around 20,000 anganwadi workers and helpers
20 states gathered at Jantar Mantar near parliament in
The demands raised by AIFAWH were simple – that the anganwadi workers and helpers, the grass root workers of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme, should be entitled to a decent living. ICDS is the world’s largest and the country’s only prestigious programme for the overall development of children – the future citizens of the country. But the women workers who care for the 16.4 crores children are left in destitution. The immediate demands included payment of gratuity of Rs 1 lakh for the workers and Rs 50000 for the helpers who were being thrown out of service on reaching 58 years of age without being paid a single paisa; the formulation of a pension scheme to ensure that these women workers do not starve to death in their old age; immediate enhancement of their meagre remuneration in view of the unprecedented increase in the prices of all the essential commodities, particularly food; the linkage of their remuneration to the Consumer Price Index; payment of minimum wages and withdrawal of the attempts to privatise ICDS.
The AIFAWH made several representations to the government on these demands. All the Women and Child Development ministers including Krishna Tirath, the present minister, and the prime ministers whom the delegations of AIFAWH met, including Dr Manmohan Singh, agreed that these demands were genuine and that the government would do its best to address them. In 2006, when a delegation of AIFAWH led by Sitaram Yechury met Dr Manmohan Singh, he agreed that it was not fair to terminate the services of the anganwadi workers and helpers who reached 58 – 60 years, without paying them any compensation. He assured that the government was considering giving them, what he called a ‘parting gift’. But nothing was done till now, nearly four years after that assurance was given. Meanwhile thousands of anganwadi workers and helpers, who are not recognised as workers in the first place, were being ‘retired’ from service.
In 2006, the committee on petitions of the Rajya Sabha, after considering an appeal by AIFAWH, recommended that ‘a standing mechanism may be put in place in the ministry of Women and Child Development for revision in the rates of honorarium after every three or four years which should be worked out in consonance with the prevailing rates of inflation’. The UPA government made a nominal increase in the remuneration two years after this recommendation was made. But though inflation has soared since then with food inflation hovering around 17 per cent, the central government did not care to provide any relief to the anganwadi employees, despite their repeated appeals. Similarly, the same committee on petitions also noted the definite ‘need (for the anganwadi workers and helpers) to have something equal to the minimum wages especially when their workload has increased manifold and the state governments are also utilising their services’. Today, the central government pays the anganwadi workers and helpers pathetic amounts of Rs 1500 and 750 per month respectively, which are less than a quarter of minimum wages paid to skilled and semi skilled workers, though it has increased their working hours and work load by including the Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Adolescent Girls under ICDS.
It was this apathetic and insensitive attitude of the government even when it could not deny that their demands were genuine, that created lot of resentment among the anganwadi employees. They responded magnificently to the call for ‘mahapadav’.
A delegation of AIFAWH led by Sitaram Yechury and Tapan Sen and comprising Neelima Maitra, president, Hemalata, general secretary, Saroj Sharma, treasurer and AR Sindhu and Usha Rani, both secretaries met the prime minister in his office on 5 May and reminded him of the non implementation of his assurance given around four years back. The prime minister reaffirmed that he believed that ICDS was making important contribution towards the development of children and that the anganwadi workers and helpers were doing commendable work. He reassured the delegation that he would do whatever possible after consulting his finance minister about the financial involvement. He appreciated the suggestion of Sitaram Yechury to link up the anganwadi centres, which provide pre school education with the primary schools and ensure the Right to Education for the children below six years also.
Sitaram Yechury, MP and Politburo member of CPI (M), who addressed the ‘mahapadav’ after the meeting with the prime minister, congratulated the anganwadi employees for their heroic struggle and conveyed the reassurance of the prime minister. He informed them that he and his Party would continue to support the genuine demands of the anganwadi employees both inside and outside the parliament and that he would pursue the matter with the government. However, he called upon them to be vigilant and continue their struggle if the government does not implement its assurances.
anganwadi employees who waited at Jantar Mantar for two days for a
response from the government were disappointed at the vague
reassurance. The AIFAWH
decided to go on an all
The ‘mahapadav’, which was presided over by Neelima Maitra, was inaugurated by MK Pandhe, vice president of CITU. AK Padmanabhan, president, Tapan Sen, general secretary, Mohammed Amin and Shyamal Chakraborty both MPs and vice presidents of CITU, and Dipankar Mukherjee, Kanai Bannerjee, Swadesh Dev Roye, secretaries of CITU, and several other CITU leaders addressed the gathering.
Brinda Karat, MP and Politburo member of CPI (M) greeted the ‘mahapadav’ and strongly criticised the government for ignoring their genuine demands. She promised to continue to raise their issues in the parliament. Basudev Acharia, leader of the CPI (M) Parliamentary Party in Lok Sabha, and many other Left MPs visited the ‘mahapadav’, greeted the anganwadi employees and extended their support. MA Baby, minister for education and Thomas Isaac, minister for finance of the LDF government in Kerala congratulated the anganwadi employees for their determined struggle and supported their demands. Thomas Isaac informed that the LDF government in Kerala has decided to pay pension to the anganwadi employees and issued the relevant government order but some vested interests close to Congress were creating hurdles in its implementation. He asked why the central government could not provide pensionary benefits to the anganwadi employees when the LDF government in Kerala with its very limited resources has decided to do so.
Noorul Huda, treasurer of All India Kisan Sabha and Sudha Sundararaman, general secretary of All India Democratic Women’s Association extended their solidarity and support to the struggle of the anganwadi employees. Many leaders of CITU and its affiliated federations and mass organisations from several states greeted the ‘mahapadav’. A cultural troupe of Jana Natya Manch led by Moloyshri Hashmi demonstrated their solidarity by staging a play on price rise. Neelima Maitra on behalf of AIFAWH expressed gratitude to all those who supported the struggle.
This ‘mahapadav’ provided several valuable experiences to the AIFAWH as well as the CITU, which have to be studied and analysed in detail and utilised in advancing people’s struggles in general and trade union struggles in particular. CITU has decided to do this.
first day of the ‘mahapadav’ by the anganwadi employees, thousands of
(Accredited Social Health Activists working in the National Rural
Mission, another flagship programme of the government of
With the increasing onslaught of the policies of the UPA II government on the living and working conditions of the people, this readiness to fight is certainly not confined to anganwadi employees and ASHAs alone. The massive participation of the workers and other sections of the toiling masses in the 5 March satyagraha of the trade unions as well as the 27 April hartal call of the 13 Left and other political parties also indicate this. This is the time to intensify struggles against the anti people policies of the Congress led UPA government by unleashing this potential. Let us all do it together.