ANGANWADI workers and helpers from Punjab, who suffer with paltry wages and poor social security like other scheme workers across the country, are on struggle path.
Nearly 5,000 anganwadi workers and helpers under the banner of Anganwadi Mulazam Union, which is affiliated to the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU), held a three-day long protest march which began from the historical city of Fatehgarh Sahib on May 28 and culminated in Chandigarh on May 30.
Usha Rani, national president of the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH), said, “About 54,000 workers are into the anganwadi system all across the state. Right now, the anganwadi teachers get only Rs 5,600 and helpers get only Rs 2,800 as an honorarium. We demand that the workers should get the minimum wage of Rs 18,000, pension, maternity leave and other monitory benefits,” she added.
Usha Rani demanded that the children in the age group of 3 to 6 years, shifted to government primary schools, should be sent back to anganwadi centres. Earlier, the Congress-led state government had formed a policy to merge 800 primary schools and start pre-primary classes in government schools by merging the anganwadi centres. The pre-primary classes at the government schools that were intended for the children in the age group of 3-6 years – which come under ICDS – ultimately would have resulted in the shutdown of the anganwadis.
The jatha was led by Usha Rani, president AIFWAH, Harjit Kaur Panjola, state president, Subhash Rani, general secretary and Dharamjit Kaur, chairperson of the union apart from the CITU state general secretary Raghunath Singh, vice president Chander Shekhar, Jatinderpal and other office bearers of Punjab CITU.
Anganwadi workers and helpers in their uniforms wearing red caps and holding CITU flags in their hands marched on foot for three days. During the protest march, the jatha was welcomed at several places. At various places, water and food was served to the marchers by people of nearby towns and villages.
On May 30, the march started at 6 am towards Chandigarh in the scorching sun and reached the border of Punjab and Chandigarh. It was stopped at the border as big barricades were erected and heavy police force was deployed. But the heavy police force could not frighten and discourage the marchers. Thousands of protesting anganwadi workers and helpers sat on the road and staged dharna and when there was no response from the government of Punjab, the anganwadi workers and helpers laid down on road in scorching sun and about 30 anganwari workers and helpers fell unconscious and had to be hospitalised. When the protesting anganwari workers and helpers started marching towards barricades, the district administration immediately contacted the cabinet minister, Balbir Sidhu who was compelled to have a meeting with the Anganwadi Mulazam Union. He also came to the venue of the dharna and assured to fix a meeting of the union leaders with the chief minister of Punjab to discuss their demands. Never before had such protest march on foot been organised by any trade union.