Video Editor: Rajbir Singh
“During COVID, we were made to run around, distribute ration… are we not citizens of the country?” asks Pallavi Sharma, who has been an anganwadi worker for four years.
When Sharma was infected with the virus, she had to go to work because she was left with no choice. She said, “Ministers isolate for 14 days but we are not given more than two days. If we take even three days off, it is cut from our salary.” She added that they have to do a lot of work online since the pandemic began but are not reimbursed for mobile bills.
In the last few years, she said she never got her salary on time. She said, “I have a small child, a husband and in-laws. I run the household by myself because everyone lost their jobs due to the pandemic.”
Sharma is among the hundreds of protesters who have been demonstrating outside the Vikas Bhawan in Civil Lines in Delhi.
A representative of the Delhi State Anganwadi Workers and Helpers Union said that the workers have been protesting since 31 January and will not back down until their demands are met. According to the union, around 6,000 protesters were present on the first day of the protests. They said that support continues to pour in.
‘Pay Us What We Deserve’
"Our demands are that we be made regular. We want them to stop calling us volunteers. We want our work to be acknowledged. We do all kinds of tasks but our salary is very low."Bindu Bharti, anganwadi worker
Anganwadi workers' tasks range from distributing ration from door to door to providing primary education to children up to the age of six. They argue that their pay is much lower than what they deserve.
Anganwadi workers are paid Rs 9,678 and helpers are paid Rs 4,839 per month in Delhi. Workers say that they should be paid Rs 25,000 per month for the amount of work they do. Currently, they work on contract.
Bindu said that they are called at any time of the day and are available at all times. When they are late even by a few minutes, they are not paid for the day.
In 2018, the government had promised that their salary would be increased by Rs 1,500 for workers and Rs 750 for helpers but this was not done.
Reimburse Mobile Bills, Transport Costs
Helpers, who are paid even lower than workers, have to clock in the same hours. Even after helpers are paid as low as Rs 4,839, they are made to pay for their own transportation and mobile bills in order to do online work. Maya, a helper, said, “Helpers should be promoted. We are not valued at all.”
“We come from far away and have to pay transport costs of Rs 50 every day. We are not reimbursed for this,” said Beena, a helper. She added, “We keep reading in the papers that our salary is increased. But we do not get any of it.”
Beena said, “Those in other departments are given holidays. We do not get any holidays at all.”
Protesting Against a Bleak Future
The protester threw light on the National Education Policy, which seeks to train anganwadi workers to educate children as it is done in playschools. Sonia, who was a volunteer at the protest, said, “It states that anganwadis will be transferred to schools. There are not as many schools. Delhi has a total of 11,000 anganwadis, meaning 22,000 helpers and workers. Schools are around 1,000. Where will the others go?”
Vrishali, a representative of the union, said that instead of increasing their honorarium, the state government issued a notification in September 2019, deducting Rs 900 and Rs 450 respectively from its share in the honorarium of workers and helpers.
In this year’s budget speech too, the finance minister emphasised on the creation of ‘Saksham Anganwadis,’ which are being touted as new generation anganwadis with better infrastructure and audiovisual aids.
The protesters said that both central and state governments have ignored their concerns. They said that they will continue to protest indefinitely until their demands are met.