Protesting Anganwadi workers and helpers detained by Delhi Police; no end in sight to woes
States do not consider Anganwadi workers as regular employees, but they are used for several health and awareness programmes, in addition to their primary work at Anganwadi centres with children
Several Delhi Anganwadi workers and helpers were detained by the Delhi Police while they were protesting in front of Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena’s official residence in Civil Lines to demand their reinstatement following termination of their services in March. They were taken to Maurice Nagar Police Station and released a few hours later.
According to the Delhi government’s submission in the Delhi High Court, 884 Anganwadi workers were served termination notices and 11,942 issued show cause notices by the Delhi government for participating in a 39-day strike earlier this year since January. There are close to 10,700 Anganwadi centres, and about 22,000 Anganwadi workers and helpers in the national Capital.
After the matter reached the High Court, the state government assured the court that they would not terminate any more Anganwadi workers or helpers.
The Anganwadi workers, under the aegis of the Delhi State Anganwadi Workers and Helpers Union (DSAWHU), had met the LG on July 16 to submit a memorandum requesting him to reinstate all the workers. He had promised that he will intervene in the matter.
Almost all the terminated workers have been struggling to make ends meet even though the union has helped most of them with some money so that they are able to buy their monthly ration.
“The government asks us to do a lot of work, but they want to underpay us. We also want to be treated at par with government employees. Delhi is expensive and we also want our children to study and get better jobs. How will we do that without a raise in our wages?” asked Poonam Rani, who used to work at an Anganwadi in Aya Nagar, near Mehrauli.
Poonam received the termination notice on March 16, 2022, through the messaging platform WhatsApp. Her husband used to work as an electronics technician but had lost his job during the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown. She has two teenage children in school and has had to borrow money to pay their fees.
Single mother and Anganwadi helper P Anita’s termination notice too was served on March 16 along with her mother’s, who is an Anganwadi worker. “The union has been helping us and I have been trying to get a few jobs so that I can continue to send my two children to school. We have been borrowing money in the hope that we can return it once we are reinstated,” said Anita.
The Anganwadi workers and helpers were demanding an increase in their monthly honorarium to ₹25,000 for workers and ₹20,000 for helpers and timely payment of their wages. The workers are currently paid ₹9,678 and the helpers ₹4,839.
As a result of the protest, the Delhi government raised the honorariums by the last week of February to Rs 12,720 for Anganwadi workers and to Rs 6,810 for helpers. The workers, however, had continued the protest as they were demanding higher remuneration and regularisation of their services.
“The Anganwadi workers and helpers stopped protesting after the previous LG Anil Baijal imposed the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) against them. They had been protesting for an increase in the honorarium,” said Vrishali Shruti, DSAWHU member. The union had called the imposition of ESMA ‘illegal’ because Anganwadi workers are not Delhi government employees but offer their services to the government on a voluntary basis.
Last week, Anganwadi workers and helpers had gathered outside the Women and Child Development Department at Kashmere Gate in north Delhi demanding reinstatement. In June, they had protested in front of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) headquarters at Rouse Avenue.
State governments do not consider Anganwadi workers as regular employees but they are used for several health and awareness programmes, in addition to their primary work at Anganwadi centres with children.
In addition to providing elementary education, in Delhi, the Anganwadi workers and helpers are required to provide supplementary nutrition to children, undertake health surveys documenting the growth and development of children, survey of pregnant and lactating mothers. During the pandemic, the Anganwadi workers and helpers in Delhi were deployed to distribute dry ration every month and they had to be part of the Covid-19 vaccination teams in their localities.
The Anganwadi workers and helpers are also part of the Aadhaar card camps; have to work as Block Level officers during elections; and spread awareness about government schemes in their respective areas. They are required to conduct annual surveys and last year they had to check the number of stray dogs in their localities. Anganwadi workers had to train women in sewing and tailoring under the Delhi government’s Saheli Samanvay Kendra to empower women.