New Delhi: Poonam (43) and Poonam (45) are residents of Delhi’s Sonia Vihar area. Poonam (43) is known as Project 62 and Poonam (45) Project 57 to their peers. Both of them also came together in the strike going on for the capital city for thee last fifteen days under the leadership of Delhi State Workers and Helpers Union. The monthly income of Poonam (43), working as an Anganwadi helper, is only Rs 3900.
Since January 31, 2022, over 22,000 Anganwadi workers and helpers have been staging a sit-in near Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s residence in the National Capital. They demand that the monthly income of the helpers be increased to 20,000, which at present is 3900- 4800 rupees. There are over 800 projects in New Delhi, each with a helper and a supervisor.
The two women don’t just share same name but also similar circumstances. Poonam (43) is the sole earner of her family. There are twelve members in her family and the responsibility of the household is on Poonam’s shoulders. The livelihood of this entire family comes from the “honorarium” received from the Anganwadi. “We have no choice but to fight for our rights”, says 43-year-old Poonam, explaining the importance of the strike. She leaves every day from January 31 at 7-8 in the morning after finishing her household chores, sometimes she comes by bus and sometimes travels on foot to reach Vidhan Sabha.
“With such a low income, we have to face inflation on one hand, and Corona on the other,” says 45-year-old Poonam Devi, who is on duty from 9 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon. But this time is only for the duty registers. Often they work till 5 in the evening, their tasks include providing awareness and education about vaccines, child-rearing, essential care during pregnancy. Poonam’s family consists of 7 members. She lives in Sonia Vihar with her husband, 3 children and her in-laws. Poonam’s husband has been looking for petty work for last two years, as he used to drive a school bus before the COVID’19, and now the shutdown of schools for two years has added to the financial problems for his family. Expressing her disappointment towards all governments, she says “Violence and injustice done by the government on us is not new, first we were sent out during COVID’19 without any safety gears and now they have called cops on us”.
The January 11 “Khabardar Rally” organised by the workers and helpers, which was violently stopped by the Delhi Police. The common sentiment among the women was one of frustration with the political masters who only want their votes.
“Every leader comes to us asking for votes, but in this odd situation, they send the police to do beat us.” The protesters are furious due to the violent handling by the police.
“The Kejriwal government has money to give to police to attack us but no money to increase the income of the workers”, says Sunita, woman sitting next to Poonam. Some of Poonam’s associates were arrested by the police on January 11 from the rally itself. Police also confiscated stage draperies, mike and other paraphernalia.
Sitting in the scorching sun, Poonam (43) also says that she was earlier told by the Delhi Police that no one has been arrested. But then after a loud protest at the Civil Lines police station, the police officers released their accomplices.
During the strike, the union’s president Shivani Kaul said that the echo of this strike of the Anganwadi workers had reached the Rajya Sabha. This Anganwadi strike was discussed in the Rajya Sabha last Sunday. It is the effect of the indefinite strike of thousands of Anganwadi workers in Delhi, due to which the voices of our fight are being heard even by this deaf government.
45-year-old Poonam Devi says that she does not have any insurance like Asha workers, so health insurance is also included in her demands. She explains the working conditions and tells that when a child becomes ill, she is questioned, not the parents of the children, and if many times money has been deducted from salary even though it is not their fault or negligence. It is very difficult for them to take a day off.
Sitting in a pink shawl fighting in winter chill, Poonam asks, “Everything is so costly! How much a person can save from 3900Rs. Our health also suffers. It is becoming extremely difficult to run a household due to financial constraints. No one in the family has a smartphone to use the Poshan Tracker app launched to help Anganwadi workers and it is not feasible to ask neighbors for phone calls every day.”
The 43-year-old protester, like the rest of her colleagues, is afraid that her salary will be deducted due to the strike. But they do not see any other way out of this crisis. “We take care of nurturing all the children but don’t our children have the right to lead a good life? I want my daughter to become a doctor.” But she is also aware of the rising inflation and extremely high fees in the medical colleges. She also said that sometimes her income is stopped for a couple of months. In such a situation, she takes out the expenses by taking out a loan and pays little by little when she gets the salary. She expresses her disappointment and emphasised the need for the strike and their demands to be met.
Shivani further informed that through the meeting notice issued by the Department of Women and Child Development on February 11, 2022, the department has proposed a dialogue with the Delhi State Anganwadi Workers and Helpers Union. It has been written in this notice that the Minister of Women and Child Development Department of Delhi Government is going to be present in the talks to be held on February 21, 2022.
Adorned with red-pink colors, in this strike, along with fearlessness, struggle and hope, the colors of art were also visible. Children who came together in the struggle with their mothers are found doing painting to singing songs of rebellion.
Both Poonam return to her house after the dharna and take care of the household chores. She laughs and says that “In anganwadi supervisor gets harsh, and in homes- it’s our husbands, we work all day and earn in pennies!” According to them, this strike is not only for their rights but also for their dignity. And they are hopeful to achieve victory in this.
The organising union have proposed two pre-conditions to negotiate with the department and the government: First, that no union other than the Delhi State Anganwadi Workers and Helpers Union, the only union representing the Anganwadi workers of Delhi, will be invited to the talks. And second that the right to elect their delegation will be completely with the union. The department and the government union will not interfere in the election of the delegation.
Sejal Patel is pursuing her post graduation in Convergent Journalism from Jamia Millia Islamia.