The Aganwadi Workers Feel Ignored , Overlooked in Nitish’s Bihar

Anganwadi worker Sangita Jha, 47,in begusarai district who would earlier clock 9 am to 6 pm in pre-Covid times, caring for the 225 families within her purview, has stopped counting the hours. The pandemic and the impending Assembly election have left the already underpaid and neglected Anganwadi women exasperated. Around two lakh Anganwadi women in the state, last month, pulled out of a 36-day strike to demand higher honorarium and the status of government employees. Bihar has one lakh Anganwadi sevikas (workers) who get paid Rs 5,650 a month, and an equal number of sahayikas (helpers) who get Rs 2,825. 
Mandated to execute the projects under the government’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme, the Anganwadi workers provide nutrition to pregnant women, young children and lactating mothers. “But this is never the case. We are called to duty for every government assignment, including the elections,” says Sangita. Last month, they were instructed to carry out small rallies, accompanied by children, raise slogans, and conduct a rangoli campaign to impress upon villagers the need to vote.
On October 11, the Anganwadi workers were trained on how the voting process is carried out and how the electronic voting machines (EVMs) work. The Anganwadi sevikas and sahayikas “are also tasked with identifying voters, creating and submitting a roster to the administration. On polling day, we have to ensure the genuine voter is voting,” says Sangita. This, the government teachers also do. The only difference is, she says, “they get paid for it, we don’t”.
The work is exactly what the teachers do. It is only fitting that we also get the rank of government employees,” says sevika Nitu Singh of Lalganj in Vaishali district. “Hence, we carried out a strike from August 21 to September 25, demanding our honorarium to be increased to Rs 15,000, and that of the sahayikas to Rs 10,000. Nitish babu’s government had assured that they will raise the amount by another Rs 300, but who can live on Rs 6,000 a month anymore,” she adds. “While a minimum wage worker also gets more, even this paltry monthly raise hasn’t been disbursed yet,” says Kumar Vindeshwar, general secretary, Bihar Rajya Anganwadi Karamchari Union, adding that the month-long strike, which saw participation from other Anganwadi unions besides the two lakh Anganwadi women workers and helpers, would had continued if it weren’t for the election model code of conduct.