People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 20

May 16, 2010

Magnificent ‘Mahapadav’ 0f Anganwadi Employees

All India Strike On 9 July, If Assurances Not Implemented




THE ‘mahapadav’ 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 from 20 states gathered at Jantar Mantar near parliament in New Delhi on the morning of 4 May 2010 and started the ‘mahapadav’ demanding redress of their major demands. The ‘Red Alert’ in Delhi, which was flashed continuously on television screens during that period, the heat wave in several parts of the country, the long distances they had to travel, could not dampen their determination to reach Delhi and participate in the ‘mahapadav’.  The entire stretch of the pavement alongside Jantar Mantar road was dug up by the Delhi government for renovation in view of the ensuing Commonwealth Games. There was no proper place for them to sit, relax and sleep. But nobody complained. They made themselves comfortable amidst the rubble and the stone slabs kept for paving the footpath; they sat there throughout the day raising full throated slogans of their demands and waiting for a response from the government; they slept on the road to wake up early in the morning and resume their slogans.

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.

The anganwadi employees who waited at Jantar Mantar for two days for a favourable response from the government were disappointed at the vague reassurance. The AIFAWH decided to go on an all India strike in July, if no concrete measures were taken by the government by then. The decision was enthusiastically supported by the thousands of the anganwadi employees in the ‘mahapadav’. Hemalata, general secretary of AIFAWH exhorted the participants to go back to their anganwadi centres and start the campaign at once. She urged upon them to take the message of the ‘mahapadav’ to each and every anganwadi worker and helper in the country and ensure that all the 20 lakhs anganwadi employees irrespective of their affiliations, participate in the all India strike if the government continues to dither in the implementation of the assurances. The all India strike will be observed on 9 July 2010.

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.

On the first day of the ‘mahapadav’ by the anganwadi employees, thousands of ASHAS (Accredited Social Health Activists working in the National Rural Health Mission, another flagship programme of the government of India) held a separate big demonstration a few yards away. Together, around twenty five thousand women workers from all over the country, under the banner of CITU, were protesting in Jantar Mantar against the government’s attitude. These women workers came to Delhi despite the many hurdles and obstacles created by the authorities and by the local politicians from the ruling classes, including threats of victimisation in addition to the many difficulties they had to face during their travel and in Delhi. Many had also to overcome resistance from their own families. The fact that they had come all the way surmounting all these difficulties indicates their readiness to fight for their demands and against what they perceive as a gross injustice by the government.

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.