Anganwadi workers get partial relief after prolonged struggle
These women workers, Anganwadi Sevikas and Helpers, are very crucial in driving the machinery for the welfare of women and children at the grassroot level across the country.
The Maharashtra Government on Thursday finally announced a hike in their remuneration. On average, the salaries of Anganwadi Sevikas, Madatnees (Helpers), Supervisors were increased by around Rs 1,500. While the raise comes as a result of a long fight, the Anganwadi workers had demanded a higher remuneration and recognition as government employees by now.
“Considering the work that we have been doing, the inflation in the last four-five years and the fight we had put up, we were expecting a raise of at least 4,000-5,000. But we knew it would be difficult. Maharashtra says it wants to empower its women. But only words do not put food on the plate,” says Rajani Pisal, an Anganwadi Sevika from Pune city.
These women workers, Anganwadi Sevikas and Helpers, are very crucial in driving the machinery for the welfare of women and children at the grassroot level across the country. Anganwadis provide a safe space for young children to gain pre-school level education. These are the places that monitor the health of pregnant women and children, providing support through healthcare and nutrition. The women who work as Anganwadi Sevikas and Helpers are entrusted with implementing several government schemes. However, their struggle for fair compensation against their invaluable work continues. Today, in most states, these workers are struggling to make the bare minimum and fighting to be recognised as a government employee.
“ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) is almost 100 percent a women’s department. We have all different kinds of women working here - there are married women, pregnant women, single mothers, single women, widows, etc. Today, the government has published advertisements at our expense, saying how Anganwadis have empowered women. On the other hand, they have completely neglected us,” says Pisal.
In Maharashtra, until now, an Anganwadi Sevika would earns Rs 8,500 per month, while a Madatnees earns Rs 4,425. Now, as per the new Budget announcement, the Anganwadi Sevikas would get Rs 10,000 while Helpers would get Rs 5,520. “Given the amount of time and effort that these women need to put in their work, was their salary sufficient?” questions Shubha Shamim of Anganwadi Karmachaari Sanghatana.
Anganwadi Centres (AWCs) prefer providing employment to widows, single mothers, etc. in order to provide them support through the work. “Around 85 percent of the Sevikas and Helpers are widows. Many of them are barely making a living every month. As Anganwadi workers, we fight against malnutrition every day. However, with such a megre income, we fear the same malnutrition will come home to us and our children now,” Chanda Mendhe, an Anganwadi Sevika from Nagpur shares.
Anganwadi Sevikas are also women who have to deal with the day-to-day expenses of their homes, amid rising inflation.
“The government is discussing increasing the remuneration of the Anganwadi Sevikas by around 20 percent. That will increase our incomes by around Rs 1,500 only. Our demand is that we should get at least Rs 15,000 per month. The irony is that the day they assured that our remuneration will increase, the same day the LPG Cylinder prices went up by Rs 50. How we are supposed to survive in this, we do not know,” Mendhe says.
Kshitija Date of Niramay, an NGO that works in the slum areas of Pune city, works closely with Anganwadi workers in different areas. She also points out the plight of these neglected women workers.
“Anganwadi Sevikas and Helpers are given too many responsibilities. Too much is expected of them for too little of a payment. The needs to these workers need to be catered to by the government at the earliest. The little remuneration that they get also does not come on time,” Date says.
If Anganwadi Sevikas were men, says Mendhe, their demands would probably have been met long back, in fact, they would have been recognised as government employees already.
“Could India have become polio free without the Anganwadi Sevikas? Since 1995, for just Rs 25 a day, we have ran campaign against polio, making sure each and every child gets the vaccine. Now the government is taking our right to live away from us,” Mendhe says.
Anganwadi Sevikas and Helpers are not just fighting for their own remuneration. “They are also fighting to ensure that the beneficiaries of government scheme get the benefits on time. They are also fighting for the quality of food, the state of their Anganwadis to be improved,” Shamim explains.
The amount provided to the AWCs is just Rs 750 per month. The Government has promised to give Rs 4,000 to 6,000 only if the area is 1,000 sq.ft. “In which city can a space be available at such low rents? Most of the time, the AWCs need to be run in congested spaces. The concept of Anganwadis is to have a space for children to gather together, eat together, play together. It is completely defeated due to the lack of funds,” Shamim says further.
Moreover, the number of Anganwadis is not at all in proportion with the growing population, especially in the urban areas. As per the website of the Women and Child Development Department of the Government of Maharashtra, the state houses 1,08,005 Anganwadi / Mini Anganwadi Centres.
“Cities are expanding. Migrant population in suburbs is increasing, slums are also increasing. But the number of Anganwadis is not growing along with this. The workload of Anganwadi Sevikas and Helpers has increased multifold,” Shamim says.
In fact, many Anganwadi Sevikas in the state are running the show on their own, without any helpers appointed at their AWCs. Some of them also have additional charge at the Aganwadis that have neither.
“Anganwadi Sevikas have their own families as well. Like most other working women, they have to go back home and work there as well. The government does not take this labour into consideration while piling up one responsibility upon another on our heads. We are not even paid well or on time for overtime,” Mendhe adds.
And yet, the Anganwadi Sevikas and helpers continue to provide their services in whatever situation is available to them.
But Mendhe says she does not know how long the women will have to fight for their right.
“You know ma’am, in this world, in the eyes of the government, women are still secondary in front of men. Look at the construction workers. A man gets paid Rs 400 per day, while a woman will get Rs 300. No matter where they go, women will be considered less than the men,” Mendhe says.