Highlighting increased workload and prices, hundreds of anganwadi workers and helpers in the national capital have joined an indefinite strike, protesting near Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s residence on Monday demanding a substantial hike in their honorariums.
Currently, anganwadi workers in Delhi receive a monthly honorarium of Rs 9,678 and helpers receive Rs 4,839, which had been increased from Rs 5,000 and Rs 2,500 respectively following a strike in 2017. Now, they have demanded an increase to Rs 25,000 a month for workers and Rs 20,000 for helpers.
There are currently around 22,000 workers and helpers employed in anganwadi centres (AWCs) across Delhi.
“We are burdened with ground-level work for every department,” said a 40-year-old worker, who has been working at AWCs since 2013. “When everyone has been at home during the pandemic, we have been going from home to home doing our duties,” she said.
With the onset of the pandemic, the service of cooked food and supplementary nutrition provided at AWCs was replaced by a mechanism where anganwadi workers and helpers were tasked with distributing ‘take home ration’ to beneficiaries.
“We have been going twice a month to every house to distribute ration. On days that we do this, we work well into the evening, till 6-7 sometimes. We are the ones who have been providing records of who is vaccinated and who is left in each household and have also been pushing people to get inoculated. We are assigned duties for any survey that the government does. At the same time, we are not given any medical assistance, not even masks and sanitiser… Using the Poshan Tracker app, we have to fill in all information both in our registers and on the app,” said a woman who has been working as an anganwadi worker for 15 years.
Normally, their work hours are supposed to be from 9 am to 2 pm.
But the introduction of a new government scheme in some AWCs has meant that the daily working hours have been extended to 4 pm.
“The Saheli Samanvay Kendra (SSK) is supposed to stay open till 4 pm so we are working for an additional two hours every day for the same pay; we have been doing this for almost a year now. It is work that is completely new to us. We have to mobilise women in our area and help them conduct self-help group meetings and motivate them to work,” said a 46-year-old worker whose centre is functioning as an SSK.
While the immediate demand is for an increase in honorariums, the demand that these women on the frontlines be recognised as government workers and not just volunteers also ran through the protest.
For some older women, this demand is even more urgent.
“I have been working at this capacity for some 35 years now. But I have no pension or life insurance, and there has been no scope for promotion to better work. Through the pandemic, I have been working in the community. My husband is also getting old, and we have no savings,” said a 55-year-old worker.
Government officials did not respond to calls seeking comment.