New Delhi— Delhi has approximately 11,000 Anganwadi centers that contribute to the early education of hundreds of thousands of children aged up to six years. Additionally, Anganwadi workers have certain responsibilities towards women in their respective areas.
In Delhi, these Anganwadi centers are also grouped under Saheli Samanvay Kendra (SSK). Twenty-one Anganwadi hub centers have been identified for setting up model SSKs. This move by the government extended the working hours of Anganwadi workers. While the regular timings for Anganwadi workers and helpers are from 9 AM to 2 PM, workers whose centers fall under SSK have shift timings from 9 AM to 4 PM.
The government fails to address the plight of these Anganwadi workers, as there are multiple loopholes surrounding their lives and centers. Moreover, when these workers take to the streets to protest for their basic rights, they are denied the right to protest.
Last year, protesting Anganwadi workers were manhandled and prevented from exercising their basic democratic rights. They were not allowed to protest, and as a consequence, some of them lost their jobs. Although some were reinstated, it came at a cost—they had to let go of their previous job experience and pending salaries that had been due for months or even years.
The government frequently launches various schemes for Anganwadi centers over several months, but it fails to understand the level of trauma experienced by the workers and helpers on a daily basis.
Anganwadi workers in Delhi have been subjected to mental trauma while working. The Mooknayak interviewed some of the Anganwadi workers and helpers in their respective centers to learn about their experiences, the problems they face, and the state of the Anganwadi centers where they work.
Many workers were terminated for protesting against delayed and insufficient salaries.
Last year, Anganwadi workers in Delhi protested against issues related to their salaries, including low wages and delays in payment. The protests began on January 31, 2022, and lasted for 38 days. The protests concluded after receiving assurances that their salaries would be increased.
During the protests, approximately 800 Anganwadi workers were terminated for actively participating in organizing the protests. The Mooknayak spoke to Rajini Saini, an Anganwadi worker who was terminated for voicing her concerns about the workers' salary demands.
Rajini Saini stated, "I was terminated because, apparently, I was too vocal. I raised the issue of salaries and got terminated. Later, they considered our demands, but I am still terminated."
These terminated workers have been rehired, and approximately 300-400 workers have returned to their jobs. However, their reinstatement came with several conditions.
Several workers, speaking anonymously, shared details about the conditions. They mentioned that their previous experience would not be recognized, and the pending salaries for previous months would not be paid since it was considered a fresh start.
The matter went to court and is still under judicial review. The state government has requested the involvement of the central government in the matter, leading the court to direct the central government to be a party in the case.
When The Mooknayak visited the Alipur Project of Anganwadi, it discovered that the government does not pay the rent for these centers on time. Present workers, who wished to remain anonymous, provided detailed information about this issue.
There are many centers in Delhi whose rent was not paid by the Delhi government for the entire year of 2022.
Usually, the supervisor of the area is responsible for finding a place to rent for running the center, but supervisors often pass this responsibility onto the Anganwadi workers and helpers.
Consequently, these workers have to search for a suitable rental place in their respective areas. They are then responsible for setting up the place as an Anganwadi center by arranging suitable charts and fulfilling other requirements related to food and educating the children.
Last year, the Delhi government paid the rent in January 2023. During this period, Anganwadi workers faced various problems, including:
In some areas, workers had to pay the rent themselves, as the property owner would ask them to vacate if the rent was not paid for an extended period.
Workers had to find a new place to rent if the owner asked them to leave.
Workers had to convince the property owners that the rent would be paid soon.
This year, the rent for the centers is still pending from January to May 2023. The Delhi government is paying the rent after a long delay, and during this time, the workers have to deal with numerous challenges.
"We have to convince the landlord that the rent will be paid sooner or later, and sometimes the owner asks us to vacate, so we have to find another place to rent. We have to move everything all over again to the new place," said an Anganwadi worker.
Anganwadi workers are overloaded with work, treated like laborers
"We workers are working more than our designated hours. After the Anganwadi center hours, the supervisor asks us to maintain a register, which is essentially their job, but we have to do it anyway," said an Anganwadi worker who wished to remain anonymous, as she had been terminated before.
Anganwadi workers are expected to organize at least two community-based events in their area, which they do at their own expense. They are promised reimbursement by the authorities. Additionally, Anganwadi workers are required to go to the main center to collect materials for their own centers. These materials include swings for children, tables, etc.
Anganwadi workers and helpers perform various tasks, from the polio campaign to census gathering, ration delivery, and vaccination efforts. They take care of the nutrition of expectant mothers and children, and maintain welfare logs for the people under their care in their centers and neighborhoods.
While speaking to The Mooknayak, Rajni said, "We workers are treated like laborers. The supervisor calls us and tells us to take tables for our centers if we need them, and we have to bear the expenses ourselves."
The disparity between the hours worked by the workers and their pay is one of the most challenging aspects of their employment as Anganwadi workers.
"We are expected to work for more than 12 hours a day. At two in the morning, our supervisors call us and order us to start working immediately. This requires us to update apps, approve user updates, and provide OTPs (one-time passwords). If we don't comply or even say anything negative about it, we receive a memo. To make matters worse, many of us have lost our jobs," claims Rajni.
Anganwadi workers do not receive any benefits after retirement
In Delhi, prior to the salary protests, Anganwadi workers' salaries were Rs. 9,686, and helper salaries were Rs. 4,839. After the protests, their salaries were increased to Rs. 12,720 for workers and Rs. 6,800 for helpers, as reported by the workers.
The workers also mentioned that they do not receive any benefits after retirement, such as pension or gratuity. After working for 10-12 years, when they reach the age of retirement, they are simply removed from their positions.
These are just a few of the many challenges faced by Anganwadi workers in Delhi. Their plight highlights the need for the government to take immediate action to address their concerns and provide them with fair treatment, adequate salaries, and job security. The exploitation of women in the Department of Children & Women must come to an end, and the authorities need to prioritize the well-being of these dedicated workers who play a crucial role in early childhood education and women's welfare.