“Hum Apna Adhikar Maangte, Nahi Kisise Bhik Maangte!”
(We demand our right, not your charity!)
On the 24th of July, thousands of Anganwadi workers and helpers marched from Ramlila Maidan to Jantar Mantar and ever since Delhi’s Anganwadi staffers have been striking and doing Dharna outside the Delhi CM’s house. These women who are anywhere between the age of 30-40 years have been fighting their way against the abysmal wages they receive of Rs 2500 and Rs 5000, on which a household cannot run.
Despite being consistently stationed outside Kejriwal’s Flag Staff Road residence, he hadn’t come out to have a dialogue with the workers. Resultantly, the workers initially resorted to relay a hunger strike of 3 days from 20th to 22nd July and then to take it a step further, commenced an indefinite hunger strike from 23rd July to 29th July. It was only on the 23rd day of the Dharna and the 7th day of Indefinite Hunger Strike, that the Kejriwal government finally gave in to the demands of the Anganwadi workers.
Thousands of Anganwadi workers protested in front of the CM’s house against abysmal wages they receive.
It has also been surprising to see the lack of visibility attracted by the incredible show of strength of thousands of workers. In Delhi alone, the workers and helpers collectively make up a force of around 22,000 women. From 21st July the women had been gathering in numbers of thousands everyday. The numbers surged to around 3500 on the 26th and 29th July. The growing number of women participation on the site of dharna led to the closure of increasing numbers of Anganwadi centres and helped create a pressure on the government. On the 26th July, a huge rally marched through the Ring Road near Vidhan Sabha, jamming the roads for more than an hour. Police was successfully pushed back by the labouring masses.
The strike was called due to the alleged non-implementation of a legally-binding agreement that the Kejriwal government had concluded in July 2015, which clearly stipulated that the honorarium of workers and helpers will be increased. However, it had been two years since the agreement and it was still not put into effect! This had caused a lot of discontentment amongst the women workers.
Most of the workers had not received their honorarium for 8-9 months and a number of families were facing the prospects of starvation because many Anganwadi women workers are the sole breadwinners in their family.
The strike was called due to the non-implementation of an agreement that the government had concluded in 2015 which increased the wages.
The assurance of a pay hike has cut no ice with a section of work for a week, prompting the government to reiterate that it will stick to its “commitment.” While Manish Sisodia was quick enough to make the Anganwadi workers’ realise their ‘good fortune’ of being able to serve children and urged them to do their work sincerely, his empty promises of doubling their salaries haven’t yet materialised. Protesters accused Sisodia of being dubious. Ms Huma Qazi, a member of Delhi State Anganwadi Workers and Helpers Union (DSAWAHU) said, “The same Manish Sisodia who refused to even talk to us on June 27th and refused to listen to our demand of increment is now crying crocodile tears in his press conference about the meagre honorarium that we receive!“
Protesters alleged that despite the AAP government’s reassurances, they will not discontinue the strike because they are able to see through, Kejriwal’s “hollow Twitter Activism’’. The government promised that the honorarium of AWC workers will be increased from Rs 5,000 to Rs 9,678 per month, and that of the helpers be increased from Rs 2,500 to Rs 4,839. However, the workers and helpers are not convinced by the government’s appeals because they felt that if the government could violate a legally-binding agreement that it signed in 2015, then how is one to take their Twitter posts and press statements seriously? Let alone getting the promised pay hike, the workers hadn’t even yet received their salaries for the last five months!
Their skepticism was also rooted in the fact that the government had previously attempted to end the strike by conjuring up, in what the DSAWAHU called, ‘Fictitious Unions’ that were willing to collude with the government to break the strike. Some of the protesting women also recounted their experiences of being intimidated with termination and penal action. The DSAWAHU, in fact goes onto to claim that the workers and helpers were physically attacked and later, false FIRs were registered against the workers by the government.
The women workers leading the charge had clearly stated that the strike would not be called off unless they received a gazette or notification from the government. The workers remained wary of the government because although it had no apprehensions in putting out tweets promising a wage increase, it had refrained from submitting any written document substantiating their claim. The workers wanted to leave no scope for the government to break their united struggle without a formal resolution being achieved.
After multiple rounds of agitating, protesting, appealing to the government bodies, the women workers of Anganwadi sent letters to the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court and National Human Rights Commission and also met with the Lt. Gov. Najeeb Jung. The Lt. Governer’s Office then sent a letter to the Kejriwal government’s Child and Women Development Minister, Sandeep Kumar and his secretary, seeking an explanation.
Finally, after days of prolonged agitation and demonstration, on 28 July, Arvind Kejriwal met one of the representatives of the movement at his house and invited their delegation to the Delhi Secretariat the next day. Next day a 5-member delegation was sent to the CM, which resulted in the accepting of all the immediate demands of the workers. The Delhi government, then issued a written agreement to the Union on its letterhead mentioning the fact that the government has accepted all demands. The Child and Women Development Minister Sandeep Kumar, along with two of Delhi Government’s secretaries, brought the letter of agreement to the venue of the Dharna.
It was a huge victory for a movement that went totally amiss by the mainstream media!
The Anganwadi workers will take this movement to its logical conclusion. They took out a rally to Rajghat: Aakrosh Rally, on the the 4th of August. They will also collectivise again on the 9th of August in a General Body Meeting to discuss the potential of Unionisation and to chalk out a roadmap for the movement ahead.