Anganwadi workers on massive stir in Bengaluru, CM fails to defuse situation
Anganwadi workers are on a massive dharna at the Freedom Park in Bengaluru, demanding basic amenities and a fair hike in their honorarium.
The stir has disrupted normal life in the city, with residents bearing the brunt of huge traffic jams.
The workers, too, have been suffering; till the third day of the stir on Wednesday, 18 had fallen sick, of which 10 had to be sent to the KC General Hospital for treatment.
Anganwadi sevikas have been on a sit-in protest in the park and nearby streets since the night of Monday, 20 March. Earlier, they had carried out a procession in the city.
These sevikas reached the capital in thousands from all across the state with their children.
- They have demanded that their minimum honorarium be raised to Rs 10,000 per month, from the current figure of Rs 4,000-6000.
- For sahayaks (assistants), the honorarium should be raised to Rs 7,000 per month from Rs 3,000-4,000.
- They should get this honorarium on time on the fifth of every month, and arrears be cleared immediately.
- Maintenance allowance be paid to workers directly via cheque.
- Staff vacancies be filled.
- The sevikas have also demanded basic facilities like drinking water and toilets, among other things.
- They said they had been protesting for several years, and the government had even agreed to meet the demands several times, but never fulfilled this promise.
Siddaramaiah's appeal fails
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah tried to intervene to get the workers to end their strike, and it looked as though the sevikas would acquiesce. However, soon, they decided to press ahead with the stir till their demands were met.
S Veeralaxmi, president of the state union of Anganwadi workers, said she met Siddaramaiah on Tuesday at the government's invitation. The CM proposed that the demonstration be ended, and talks about the demands could be held on 19 April. He explained that though he was willing to hike the honorarium, he would be unable to make an announcement soon as the Model Code of Conduct was in place due to two upcoming by-elections to the state Assembly.
However, when the sevikas returned to Freedom Park to convey the CM's message, the protestors dismissed the assurance of the Chief Minister and made up their mind to continue the dharna.
Veeralaxmi stated that the dharna would continue until all demands were met. She said if the police decided to arrest the protestors, they would still not end the stir.
The workers' contention is that their demands have nothing to do with the by-election, and that the government is only using it as an excuse to send them back empty-handed. They say they've been fighting for these demands since last year, but each time, the government only gives them assurances. This time, it would have to give in to their demands in writing.
The workers alleged that the government had promised to make a provision of Rs 612 crore for Anganwadis in the budget, but only Rs 110 crore was eventually granted.
Siddaramaiah, on the other hand, said that the government had raised the honorarium for a sevika by Rs 1,000 and that of a sahayak by Rs 500 in the budget. In an appeal to the protesting workers, he assured that by April, a sevika would receive Rs 7,000 and a sahayak Rs 3,500.
He said the government was seriously considering all the demands made by the Anganwadi workers, but owing to technical and administrative problems, it was not possible to take any decision till mid-April.
More work, same pay
There are more than 20 lakh anganwadi sevikas and sahayaks (assistants) in the state. Most of them are women.
Anganwadi sevika Jayamma said she has been working for the last 35 years, and until a few years ago, she was receiving less than Rs 2,000 per month for 8-12 hours of work. She is set to retire in two years, and is facing extreme economic hardship.
The demonstrators pleaded that it was not possible to look after their families with such high inflation and low honorarium. They also complained about the designation of 'sevika' – which means 'worker'.
The workers contend as the government has kept on adding more and more responsibilities without increasing the honorarium.
Former teacher and author K. Marul Siddappa said that even today, teachers at Anganwadi centres were paid Rs 6,000 and assistants only Rs 3,000.
Citing the example of neighbouring states, Siddappa said the workers there were better paid.
Regarding Siddaramaiah's point that the honorarium had been increased in this year's budget, Siddappa said the increase of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 for workers and assistants was measly.
The matter got a further political edge when Leader of the Opposition Jagadish Shettar of the BJP and another former CM and Janata Dal (Secular) leader HD Kumaraswamy met the workers on Tuesday and assured them of their support.
Then, on Wednesday, JD(S) members raised the issue in the Vidhan Sabha, protesting in front of the Speaker's chair.
Shettar, too, said the government must pay heed to the thousands of workers gathered at the Freedom Park, arrange food and water for them, and make sure the stir is ended quickly.
CM Siddaramaiah assured the house that the government was sympathetic to the workers' demands, but its hands were tied till the Model Code of Conduct was in place. He also said there were other pressing issues that the government needed to address, like waiving off drought-affected farmers' loans.
The matter also came up for discussion at a meeting of Congress MLAs, with some members blaming women and child development minister Umashree. But Siddaramaiah defended her, saying a reduction in Central grants for Anganwadis was to blame for the situation.