The struggles and hardships an Anganwadi worker faces in Karnataka.
Everyday Pauline Vaz walks about 5-10 kilometres just to reach her workplace from home and then back. Pauline is working at the anganwadi in Puttur for 28 years now. An Anganwadi is a child care shelter which was initiated by the government under the Integrated Child’s Development Services (ICDS) scheme to fight hunger and malnutrition among young children. Children from the age of 2 to 6-years go to the anganwadi’s. Pauline initially started out with a salary of Rs 90 and now 28 years later she only gets a small amount of Rs 3000. “We anganwadi workers went on a strike recently, so that the government can increase our salaries. From each village, two anganwadi workers went to Bangalore for the strike,” said Pauline.
An anganwadi worker plays a vital role from a child’s birth to the age where they can start going to school. The work that they do is very tedious and the efforts invested are a lot more than what they are paid for. An anganwadi worker makes sure she checks all the houses, looking out for pregnant women, informing them ahead of time of what they should be doing when the baby is born and educating about registering for polio vaccination as well. “By now, I know each and every house in this locality, what they do, where they work, everything,” says Pauline. An Anganwadi worker is the most important part of the ICDS Scheme. She plays a crucial role in promoting child growth and development. She is also an agent of social change, mobilizing community support for better care of young children, according to M.C. Sandhyarani, a Research Scholar who writes for the International Journal of Science.
Even though the work that these Anganwadi workers do is very extensive, yet they are only paid an amount of Rs 3000 for the helpers and Rs 6000 for the teacher. Thousands of anganwadis remain closed across Karnataka, with more than 8,000 anganwadi workers and helpers across Karnataka protesting for a hike in their salaries. Every year, the government gives them an annual increase of Rs 500, but the workers demand for more. The worker’s are now demanding Rs 7000 for the helpers and Rs 15000.
50-year-old helpers like Pauline in an anganwadi go through health issues during their oldage like weaking of their bones, lack of hemoglobin and are not compensated for during the sickness.“Only a few surgeries are paid for, but if your bones are weak or you are lacking in hemoglobin then the government does not pay. They instead, deduct our salaries when we take holidays for our sickness,” said Pauline. She recently fainted while she was returning home. The doctors diagnosed lack of blood in her body and recommended her to take rest. Pauline took 15 days off from her work and on returning to work, her salary was deducted into half the amount and she only got a sum of Rs 1,500 – from which she spends for food, medicines and taking care of her mother.
The anganwadi workers took the streets and called an indefinite strike for four days from March 21 this year. For years, the Karnataka government has only sanctioned Rs 1,500 of the 7,000 that was originally supposed to be sanctioned, as stated by Sunanda HS, General Secretary, Karnataka State Anganwadi Noukarara Sangha, in an interview with The New Indian Express. Around 40 women in Hosakote were also arrested while protesting and weren’t allowed to get train tickets to go back, the report says. Sunanda added to the report saying that six women, who were protesting and walking all night, fainted and had to be hospitalised for dehydration.
The four-day strike ended, when Umashree, Minister for Women and Child Welfare spoke to the workers at Freedom Park. Umashree told the Deccan Herald that the Chief Minister has promised the workers that their demands will be met soon. At the end of this, the workers got a hike of Rs 1,000 in their salaries which had been announced in the budget, though the government has just considered an additional Rs 3,000 hike and will announce its final decision on April 10, according to the Deccan Herald reports.
Pauline is not very happy with the hike that the government has sanctioned, as it is only Rs 500 extra than the actual annual hike. “My needs might be met with the hike, but I am still unable to save money for my ongoing treatment of blood deficiency.” She adds, “We are just waiting and hoping that the government will be able to sanction the amount that we requested, pleaded and walked miles for.”