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“They terminated me, my younger sister, and my mother. My younger sister is a single mother, and my mother is alone too,” said 43-year-old Manisha. She worked as an Anganwadi worker for 16 years until March 2022, when she received a termination notice that robbed her of her livelihood and turned years of hard work to dust.
In a two-room house tucked away in a narrow lane of Mandawali in east Delhi, the three women recall the day they received the termination notice on their phones.
The notice from the Delhi government's Department of Women and Child Development (WCD), sent to at least 884 workers and helpers (as per the Anganwadi union) in March 2022, stated that they were terminated because they had participated in a strike.
In January 2022, thousands of Anganwadi workers and helpers went on a protest, demanding an increase in salary and to be made permanent employees. They claimed that they had to work under exploitative conditions without any leaves, and worked even when they were suffering from COVID-19 . While some of these demands were met eventually, it was at the cost of 884 livelihoods.
This is what Manisha’s notice read;
“Considering the factual aspects of the case and material evidence on record, it is clear that Ms Manisha was not attending her duties as Anganwadi worker on the pretext of strike.”
It added, “Her continuance as an Anganwadi worker would be against the general public interest... Services of Manisha as Anganwadi worker are hereby terminated with immediate effect.”
No Jobs, Piling Debt: How are The Women Doing Now?
Anita, Manisha’s younger sister, lost her husband in 2018. Working as an Anganwadi helper, the 32-year-old would earn Rs 4,839 per month. In addition, she received a widow pension of Rs 2,500. This was not enough for her to sustain her household of three.
“My children study under the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) category for free but I have to take care of the remaining expenses, such as books, notebooks, and pencils. Their tuition alone, costs Rs 2,400 a month," Anita told The Quint.
Now, she has started taking up temporary work such as embellishing dupattas and sarees with zari work. She makes around Rs 1,500 a month. She has been trying to look for a job in a government school or as a security guard but with fixed expenses such as rent and children's education, she has had to take loans from relatives. She now has a debt of Rs 50,000.
Speaking about her work as an Anganwadi helper, Anita said,
"We would call children, make them sit, check their weight, ensure that they are given snacks on time, and assist teachers (Anganwadi workers) with teaching and making charts."Anita, terminated Anganwadi helper
"We would deliver ration from door to door. We were not given any masks or sanitisers during COVID-19... People would not even come to the door because they were scared of contracting the virus," Anita remarked.
While Anita and her mother, Jaiwati, live a lane apart from each other in Mandawali, Manisha had moved to Nand Nagri after getting married. The men in their families take up odd jobs, and are unable to support them.
Manisha was the sole breadwinner of the family when she lost her job for protesting against low wages and poor working conditions. Her husband, who was earlier unemployed, had started taking up odd jobs.
He earns Rs 9,000 now, which is not enough to sustain a family of five. Manisha has three children and was earning Rs 9,678 as an Anganwadi worker.
Their mother, Jaiwati, who is in her 60s, also lost her job for protesting. She had been working for over 25 years as an Anganwadi helper. She said, “I try to search for jobs... But I am often turned away because of my age.”
‘We Were Protesting for Our Rights’
Jaiwati vividly recalls the day she was terminated. “I had left for work that day. My daughter called me and asked me to come back home but I did not. Then the others at the Anganwadi asked me to leave. I was shattered that day... I felt like crying. We had not done anything wrong,” she said.
Anita echoes this sentiment when she says, “(Arvind) Kejriwal also used to protest. That is how he reached where he is today...”
“They should at least tell us what our mistake was. We had merely gone to protest for our rights,” she added.
When The Quint spoke to protesters outside the Chief Minister’s residence at Civil Lines in January 2022, they told us that their foremost concern was meagre pay. They said that in 2018, the government had promised that their salary would be increased by Rs 1,500 for workers and Rs 750 for helpers but they claimed that it had not been done.
The protesters demanded that their salaries be increased to Rs 25,000 per month. They demanded they be made permanent employees instead of being contractual workers.
On 24 February 2022, the Delhi government had said that they would increase workers’ honorarium to Rs 11,220 and that of helpers to Rs 5,610. It had also promised that conveyance and communication allowance will be hiked to Rs 1,500.
Meanwhile, at least 3,000 workers received show-cause notices. The workers responded to these notices and stated that they would resume their duties. For Anita, Manisha, Jaiwati and 881 other workers and helpers, it was too late.
Anita said, “They finally increased the salaries. But what was the point? We did not witness the change.”
The Anganwadi workers union filed a petition in the Delhi High Court in March 2022. For the terminated workers, this is their last strand of hope.
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