August 1, Delhi. On the 23rd day of the Dharna and the 7th day of Indefinite Hunger Strike, the Kejriwal government finally gave in to the demands of the Anganwadi workers. It is noteworthy that the Anganwadi workers and helpers of Delhi were on strike since July 7. The Kejriwal government of Delhi had been refusing to even meet the workers and listen to their demands. As a result, the workers first resorted to relay hunger strike of 3 days from 20th to 22nd July and then to indefinite hunger strike from 23rd July to 29th July. Meanwhile, the women workers of anganwadi sent a letter to the Chief Justice of Delhi High Court and National Human Rights Commission. Besides, a delegation of striking workers also met the principal secretary of Lt. Gov. Najeeb Jung. The Lt. Governer’s Office had sent a letter to the Kejriwal government’s Child and Women Development Minister Sandeep Kumar and his secretary, asking for explanation.
The workers had been demanding the payment of unpaid earned wages. 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 breadwinner in their family. They had also been demanding the issue of an identity card because in the absence of any identity card the supervisors and CDPO in the anganwadi centres often harass them and force them to do jobs that are not part of their obligations. Besides, the workers demanded the implementation of the special insurance scheme for the anganwadi workers and payment of allowance for the Sabla scheme. The movement of anganwadi workers grew with every day especially after 19th July, when the relay hunger strike started. The gathering of workers used to be around 300 to 500 before 19th July. However, from 21st July the gathering crossed the number of 1000 everyday and reached to around 3500 on 26th and 29th July. The growing number of women workers on the site of dharna led to the closure of increasing number of anganwadi centres and created a huge pressure on the government. Moreover, the huge rally of 26th July jammed the Ring Road near Vidhan Sabha for more than an hour and the Police was helpless due to the large number of women workers.
Besides the victory of the movement in terms of the demands won, the greatest achievement of the movement was the emergence of a new independent union of anganwadi workers of Delhi, i.e., ‘Delhi State Anganwadi Workers and Helpers Union’ (DSAWHU) and the peripheralization of agent trade union federations of the electoral parties among the anganwadi workers of Delhi. It is noteworthy that representatives of one such federation came to the dharna of workers twice and urged them to end the dharna till they organize a nationwide movement of anganwadi workers! However, the workers did not pay heed to them and drove them away. Similarly, some activists of the NGOs who are running a few anganwadi centres also came to the venue of strike and tried to persuade the workers to end their movement. However, the workers shouted them away. It was the conscious efforts of the workers and the leadership of the new union that prevented different kinds of agents to penetrate the movement and thus ensure the victory of the movement.
On July 28, 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 of DSAWHU met Arvind Kejriwal and held talks for 45 minutes after which the CM accepted all the immediate demands of the workers and assured that the government will definitely consider the long-term political demands of the workers. Delhi government issued a written agreement to the Union on its letter-pad 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 the movement. The workers took out a huge Victory March on July 29 from Civil Lines to Vidhan Sabha. Almost 3000 workers participated in the march.Shivani, the legal advisor of the Union said, “the struggle has just begun. Until the anganwadi women workers are given the formal recognition as workers by the government and all the legal entitlements of workers, the movement will continue. Right now, it is time to consolidate the victory of our immediate demands. However, we will soon launch a new movement for the fulfilment of our long-term demands.” Radha, member of the leading committee of the Union said, “Under the pressure of our movement, the Kejriwal government has increaded the honorarium of anganwadi workers from Rs. 5000 to Rs. 6000 for 4 hour work and the honorarium of anganwadi helpers from Rs. 2500 to Rs. 3000 for 4 hour work. The due salaries have been paid. However, we wills struggle for the status of permanent workers from the government. For this very purpose, the Union has called a general body meeting on August 9, Sunday.”
The DSAWHU is going to hold its first General Body Meeting on August 9. This meeting will discuss the future strategy for the Anganwadi workers’ movement and also the legal aspects of the struggle like the registration of the Union. More than 2000 union membership forms had been filled during the strike.
Delhi State Aanganwadi Workers and Helpers Union