November 20, 2022

AIFAWH PROTESTS ON CHILDREN’S DAY, NOV 14: ‘No More Bhajans; We Want Food and Infrastructure’

A R Sindhu

THOUSANDS of anganwadi workers and helpers protested throughout the country on Children’s Day, November 14, 2022 demanding food, infrastructure and integrated child development.

Due to continuous cuts in budget allocations and unprecedented price rise in the last couple of years, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme has been severely affected. Food supply to anganwadi centres has been reduced by upto 30-40 per cent in many states including Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar. In Uttar Pradesh, the beneficiaries are given take home ration only for ten days in a month in most of the districts. Anganwadi workers and helpers have been asked to cut down the number of beneficiaries in the name of online Aadhaar seeding.

Anganwadi workers are being harassed through the mechanism of ‘poshan tracker’, a mobile app, where the administration expects workers who are not provided mobile phones, data pack or network facilities, to present digital reports. The beneficiaries including children are being denied food in anganwadi centres if their Aadhaar card is not linked digitally. Workers are being threatened of retrenchment by the ministry. When this was questioned in the parliament, the ministry replied that nutrition will not be denied, but at the same time it has given written instructions to stop nutrition to the beneficiaries and Aadhaar card is made mandatory.

Corporates and NGOs are being involved in various ways in the ICDS work, thus turning the basic right to food, health and education, into a charity rather than an entitlement. The withdrawal of subsidy has resulted in a three time increase in the price of cooking gas. Similar is the rise in the prices of oil, vegetables and condiments. The low paid anganwadi workers and helpers are made to bear all the additional expenses.

In the name of community participation, various state governments are withdrawing from the responsibility of ensuring the basic right to food for children and mothers through the anganwadi centres.  The government of Madhya Pradesh has come up with a Poshan Matka scheme, where, in every anganwadi centre, the anganwadi worker is supposed to keep five matkas (earthen pots) and collect five quintals of food grains as donation from the villagers every month! Out of this, three quintals of food grains has to be sold out and with that money she is supposed to purchase items like ghee, sugar/jiggery etc and prepare laddoos! Madhya Pradesh is not an isolated case, and in many states such ‘innovative’ ideas like adoption of anganwadi centres etc are being introduced to shift the responsibility of supply of nutrition from the government to the workers. 

Efforts are being made to shift the focus of services offered in anganwadi centres. Anganwadi workers and helpers are being overburdened with non- ICDS works where the WCD department officials refuse to take the responsibility. In one district in Madhya Pradesh, through an order, anganwadi workers are made responsible for taking stray cattle from highways to ‘Goushalas’ and in case any stray cattle is found on the highways, the anganwadi worker is to be punished!

There are few more shocking incidents where the workers are asked to participate in religious functions and also promote obscurantist practices. A few months ago, the Uttarakhand WCD minister directed the anganwadi workers to offer water in nearest Shiva temples to “Beti Bechao, Beti Padhao’ (save the girl child and educate her) campaign! In September 2022, in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, the WCD department directed the anganwadi workers and helpers to attend ‘Shiv Mahapuran Katha’ in the district. In Bihar, workers are asked to observe ‘dhanteras’ as ayurvedic day.

This year, India has slipped six points from the previous year in the global hunger index, to become 107th in a total 121. But the prime minister of India, in his 92nd ‘Mann ki Baat’, telecasted immediately after the 75th Independence Day praised the Madhya Pradesh BJP government which is using ‘bhajans’ (devotional songs) to reduce malnutrition! At present, in most of the states including Delhi, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh, anganwadi workers and helpers have not received remuneration for the last six to eight months! It is in this context that AIFAWH decided to organise massive campaign on the issue and hold an all India protest action on November 14, Children’s Day, this year with the slogan ‘bhajan nahi bhojan do’.

In various states, massive campaigns were organised and thousands of leaflets were distributed among the workers as well as beneficiaries. As a culmination, rallies, dharnas, meetings etc were organsied at project/district levels on November 14, 2022. In Kerala, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Maharashtra, protests were organised on a large scale. Due to elections, no public programme was organised in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. In the other states, protests could not be held on November 14, due to various reasons including CITU conferences, and they action will be held later.

A state level rally was called by the anganwadi union in Punjab at Sangrur in front of the chief minister’s residence. The union decided to organise this state level programme because the workers did not receive wages for the last eight months and none of the promises made by the minister for WCD with the union for payment of wages, appointment of workers in more than six thousand posts, payment of increased cooking costs including the price of the cooking gas, arrest of corrupt officers etc were implemented since last two months. The election promise of the AAP for doubling the wages of anganwadi workers and helpers in the state has become a joke.

Around 15,000 workers assembled at Sangrur from around 10 am on November 14. A R Sindhu, general secretary and Usharani, president of AIFAWH also participated in the protest at Sangrur. The leaders castigated the AAP government which claims to be the alternative to the BJP, but is pursuing the same policies of being totally anti-worker. The protesters also demanded that the AAP government in Delhi must reinstate the nearly one thousand workers who were retrenched for participating in strike.  Since the administration and the government were not ready to talk to the union, the workers marched to the CM’s residence under the leadership of Harjeet Kaur, president, Subhash Rani, general secretary, Amritpal Kaur, treasurer and Krishnakumari, working committee member of AIFAWH. The all India leaders as well as the state president and general secretary of CITU, Maha Singh Rouri and Chander Shekhar also joined the protest. The police tried to use force against the peaceful march and there were some altercations. The workers blocked the road for around three hours. Ultimately, the chief minister who was in his election tour in Gujarat agreed to meet the union on December 15, 2022. After a written communication was received, the protest was withdrawn.