People's Democracy

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


No. 51

December 22, 2013


Indefinite Struggle by ‘Bisi Oota’ Workers

In Karnataka Achieves Hike in Wages

R Ramakrishna


BEHOLD the woman with a 3 year old girl-child in her lap sitting on the road in Gandhinagar, the heart of Bangalore city – until heart beats with their heartfelt woes.    For the heartless ‘High-Tech’ Bangalore and to its officials, she appears as a stubborn woman sitting amongst other women and is a hindrance to the free-flow of traffic.


This resolute woman’s name is Savitri. Her native is Sindagi taluk in Bijapur district. Twelve years have passed since she got employed but her monthly salary is exactly Rs 1,100 only, which works out to a paltry Rs 38 per day. In her house there are six mouths to be fed.  Her four children, herself and her husband.  She does not own any land. Her husband works as a tenant farmer and agricultural labourer.  Out of the six sacks of jowar harvested, 3 sacks is the share of the land owner and the remaining three sacks will be left for them.


Savitri works in the MPKBS government school as a multi-purpose worker. There are around 400 school children to whom hot food has to be cooked and served by just four workers. Has this woman, who has herself given birth to four children, ever got maternity leave?  No. Whenever she availed sick leave, has she ever got ‘leave with pay’? No.  Does she have any insurance benefit? No.  ESI? No. At least, will she get retirement benefits namely Provident Fund? No.  No.  No.


For Savitri, work is more than the usual routine.  She has to buy vegetables and provisions regularly.  Children have to be given meals.  Milk has to be given.  She has to be present in the school by 8.00 a.m. in the morning.  On Saturdays she has to reach by 7.00 a.m.  Cleanliness of the school premises has to be maintained.  The kitchen has to be washed.  Amidst this drudgery, the voices demanding ‘we want food’ is also getting louder at home also.  How to pull along life with so many ‘Nos’ and so many ‘Needs’?  This is a big question now for those like Savitri.


Ask Neelamma of Jewargi taluk who is sitting in the dharna with all these women.  She will open a bundle of pain. Whenever cooking gas gets exhausted, she has to walk over 2 km to get  firewood to cook food.  The school does not have water facility.  Every day she has to walk 2 km and pump water from borewell and bring it in pots keeping them on her head.


Scorching afternoon sun.  Hungry stomachs.  The street vendor says that he does not have proper change to return, and so presses her to take tea for that change. Taking out a bread rusk from her bag and dipping it in her glass of tea, what does this Muniyamma of Siddlugatta say?  “Apart from cooking food, we have to remove garbage from the school playground and even from the class rooms.”


‘You are talking to them only and going away. You did not ask us what issues we have’ saying so in a sad tone confronted me a woman coming from Hulikere near KRS Dam in Mysore.  Her name is Mahdevi. She is 45 years old and lost her mother at a young age. Her father died of a stroke 15 years ago and a year later her husband also passed away.  Her family consists of two growing children. Later she

held on to the twig called ‘Akshara Dashoha, the mid-day meal scheme for government schools in Karnataka. The cost of living is increasing day-by-day.  Whether to clutch to this twig or get drowned is the question.  The salary of Rs 1,000.  How can one feed the family with this meagre salary?  Three zeros!  Even people getting salary of  4 zeros are in distress in the face of steep price rice.  What should these women do?


Well, they understood what needs to be done. They all together came to the capital city and sat down firmly. “Something we should get. Else we will not move from this place.  Let it be day or night.”  Yes, this is what they were all doing when this reporter caught up with them.  While coming they have brought roti, ground-nut chutney, chapati etc and shared this food amongst themselves.  The period of this struggle? ‘Indefinite’?  But the demands of the struggle were definite.  Shouldn’t the government give at least the minimum wages fixed?  If not, atleast Rs 100 per day as wages.  At this rate at least Rs 3000 per month?


The persons running the government have gone to Belgaum.  So what? These are modern times. In ‘Freedom Park’, which is the old place of Central Jail, thousands of women are braving cold and wind. They slept here and woke-up to struggle; is it really a difficult problem to understand why these women are on struggle?  That too in the same days when we have sent spacecraft to Mars.


Is it not that ‘Bisi Oota’ (hot meals) programme in schools was introduced as per the directions of Supreme Court of India in order to increase attendance in schools, to introduce unity in learning and to avoid children from becoming child-labourers, and to eradicate malnutrition? 

Under this programme in Karnataka, over 65 lakh school children are served. However, only 1.4 lakh women work for 5 to 6 hours a day to feed hot food to these children. It seems the state government has received appreciation from the union government for effective implementation of this programme.  It is actually appreciation for these women who even while their children drink porridge or starve in homes, are diligently working for such meagre wages.


But what is their condition? Their employment is not guaranteed. In the background of the tragic deaths that occurred in Bihar due to ‘Bisi Oota’ and as per the discussion in the legislative council, it was mentioned by legislators that they would rather hand over this programme to corporate companies. The minister did not feel any kind of embarrassment to say ‘we do not know to execute the job; we will hand it over to the private sector’. Will private corporates not have profit motives, religious motives and many other ulterior motives harmful to school education system?



The protesting workers made many demands. ‘Bisi Oota’ programme has to be made permanent, the workers have to be considered as government employees.  The 45th ILC’s (Indian Labour Conference) recommendations have to be implemented.  Based on attendance, the cooking staff working for the past 11 years have to be made permanent. The way in which teachers are transferred while schools are merged, similarly the cooking staff should be transferred to nearby schools. Double wages should be given when they work during droughts and on special holidays. Every month wages should be given in the first week and also over-time money should be given. Salary should be paid for summer holiday months.  Like this there are a number of Demands. But the most important of them was the increase of wage to Rs 3000 per month and curtailing privatisation of Bisi Oota programme.


When the struggle entered the fourth day, it reached a new level.  A call was given to stop preparation of ‘Bisi Oota’ in all the schools in the state. On 5th December 2013, burning five days, freezing four nights were spent at the venue of the struggle after which a glimmer of light was visible.  This confirmed the message that the path of suffering and struggle of our lives are getting concluded.


The state government decided to increase the monthly wages of ‘Akshara Dasoha’ workers.  On 6th December, social welfare minister Anjaneya came to the spot of indefinite dharna and  announced the government decision to enhance the wages by Rs 500 per month.


Earlier, ‘Akshara Dasoha’ workers from various districts and from corners of the state boarded buses and trains, holding Red flags and placards in the morning on 2nd December when they proceeded from the railway station. The procession crossed the Anand Rao circle flyover and proceeded towards the Freedom Park and this sea of people could not be even called undisciplined, because inspite of rushing with vigor the people in the procession followed the instructions given by the leaders. Where ever they were asked to stop, they stopped. Workers and working class people have their own discipline.  Actually, it is the persons who run the government who lack discipline. The promises made before elections, the manifesto declared to the people before election, the words spoken by politicians are all left to the wind.


The Akshara Dasoha Workers Union struggle under CITU received widespread support. Among those who came and addressed the workers included CITU state president V J K Nair, general secretary S Prasanna Kumar, leaders K Mahantesh, K N Umesh and others; educationist Niranajan  Aradya, president of High School Teachers Union H S Manjunath; V Gopal of Social Reformers Union; SFI state president Ananth Naik, DYFI state secretary B Rajashekaramurthy; AIJMS state president V Geeta and general secretary K S Lakshmi; BEFI leader Ratnakar Shenoy and others.




At first stage chief minister requested leaders to wind up agitation and go back to work, since  the government is not in a position to take decision immediately. But the union leaders did not agree. They were firm on their demands. In the discussion held with chief minister Siddaramaiah, union state president S Varalakshmi, state office bearers Yamuna Gaonkar, Ganga, Siddamma, Nagarathna, Manjula and others participated.


On the first day of the struggle when the education commissioner came to the place of struggle, union general secretary Malini Mesta read out the memorandum and submitted it to the commissioner.  It was agreed by the government officials that the wages of the workers who participated in the struggle would not be deducted and they would not be harassed for participating in the struggle. This was another achievement and success of this struggle.