That’s how much Anita, who has worked as an anganwadi helper in Delhi for 15 years, receives every month. It’s not a salary, it’s an “honorarium”. With this amount, the single mother is expected to be able to run a household, pay rent, and take care of her two children, aged seven and eight.
Of the Rs 4,839, Rs 3,500 – or 70 percent – goes on rent. So, Anita, 32, also works part-time as a cook in two houses, visiting each twice a day before and after her anganwadi duties. She also receives Rs 2,500 per month as pension following her husband’s death in 2018.
Bringing up her children alone, Anita often borrows from her mother, who is also a single mother, and her neighbours, especially when the salary is delayed – which is often. She’s only taken out a loan once but she’s sure that she will have to again in the near future, for her children’s education.
Putting all this together too, Anita is barely able to make ends meet. So, she’s one of 800 anganwadi workers and helpers who have been protesting outside the home of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal for the last 12 days, demanding higher pay and job security.
There are currently around 22,000 anganwadi workers and helpers employed in centres across Delhi. There’s approximately one centre per 1,000 population, and each centre employs a worker and a helper.
Anita gets a monthly honorarium of Rs 4,839 of which she spends Rs 3,500 on rent.
Posters at the protest.
“I don’t want my kids to say that there was something that I didn't do for them,” Anita told Newslaundry. “It’s okay if I am not able to fulfil my needs but my kids should never feel that way. These days, even the poorest can’t survive with this much salary.”
Anita’s husband died in 2018 because of alcohol dependency. She wonders if things would have been different if he was around and if she would have been able to put up a stronger fight against the system, which she says is against her.
“If we say something, they accuse us of arguing and give us memos or threaten to fire us,” she said. “So, I can’t say anything, as I am dependent on this money; I have to be quiet. When we speak about our problems, they say that we don’t have a government job, so why should we get any of the securities?”
Anita’s work starts at 9 am. She first goes house to house rounding up the children enrolled in the anganwadi, and then takes them to the centre, where she helps them use the bathroom, recites poems, and holds other activities. She then walks them back to their homes, does field work and Covid surveys and vaccination work, and then her anganwadi job ends by 2 pm. Officially, of course, because it’s often 3 or 4 pm by the time she’s done.
Then her second job begins, alongside her full-time task of running her home.
Until five years ago, Anita and other anganwadi helpers were receiving only Rs 2,500. After two months of protest in 2017, this was increased to the current amount of Rs 4,839. As part of the ongoing protest, anganwadi helpers have been demanding that their salary be increased to Rs. 20,000. Anganwadi workers, who currently receive Rs 9,768, want their salary to be increased to Rs 25,000.
In December, after 14 years as an anganwadi helper, Anita found a vacancy for an anganwadi worker and applied. But because she took a break from work between 2017 and 2018, she was not considered for the position. According to her, the department claimed they had “no record” of her earlier work, despite her producing documents as proof.
“I am faced by so many obstacles, but they are blind to the problems of helpers,” she told Newslaundry. “They don’t consider us as anything. Everyone tells me how strong I am but they can’t tell by looking at me, I have so much sadness inside.”
While a large number of the women have been coming for the protest in groups, Anita prefers to travel alone. This is because of the recent whispers that have been floating around – that bus drivers, allegedly on instruction of the Delhi government to curtail the protest, have started refusing to let groups of anganwadi helpers and workers on board.
“My biggest tension is of my salary getting cut because of this strike,” she said. “I don’t know how I’ll adjust next month. So, I really hope we win.”
‘How is what we do less than government workers?’
When Rani applied to be an anganwadi worker in 1994, she was No. 419 on the list. She gave up hope, thinking she wouldn't get through. But to her surprise, she soon received a confirmation letter appointing her to the post at a salary of Rs 400 per month.
Twenty-nine years later, she receives Rs 9,768 – an amount she says is not nearly enough, especially keeping in mind the amount of work she does and the rise in prices of goods.
After working as an anganwadi worker for 29 years, Rani receives Rs 9,768 per month.
The main demand of the protesters is a hike in their honorarium.
The protest began on January 31.
“Even if they would have increased our salary by Rs 1,000 every month, it would have been so much more than what it is now,” said Rani, 58. “There is so much inflation, prices of everything have increased. It is very hard to manage a household with this.”
She added, “When you’re reliant on even Rs 2 from somewhere, it makes a difference. Our December salary just came this week. Even when salaries are delayed, which is often, we are not given a date as to when they will come.”
Rani’s work includes taking care of pregnant women and lactating women; collecting and maintaining records of pregnant women, mothers, and children; distributing cooked meals to children below the age of six; playing with the kids and teaching; raising awareness; administering vaccinations; and conducting surveys under the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana.
She works at the anganwadi till 12.30 pm, after which the children go home. Then she sets off for fieldwork, following which she sits down and writes up her reports.
“We are called social workers while giving salaries, yet we have so much work and are bound by several things. Tell me, how is the work we do less than government workers?” she asked.
Pointing out the wide disparity between her honorarium and the salary prescribed for government preschool teachers, Rani said, “They get around Rs 70,000 and securities. We don't even get Rs 10,000 here. Post retiring, it’s like they don’t even know you. We do the main work in the area but still, they do not understand our hardships and hard work.”
The biggest change over the last few years has come with making everything online. Salaries, once paid in cash, are now transferred to bank accounts. Attendance, earlier done in a physical register, is marked in the form of a selfie and a location pin sent on a WhatsApp group.
And, importantly, workers now have to use the Poshan Tracker app, which was introduced in 2018 to provide real time monitoring and tracking of all anganwadi centres, anganwadi workers, and beneficiaries, such as pregnant women, lactating mothers and children.
But frustratingly, it has resulted in anganwadi workers having to do double work. The same entries have to be made by hand in registers and entered on the app too. Also, Rani and other anganwadi workers claim that the app frequently doesn't have a working server, and using it only adds to their workload. Many workers have also not been adequately trained to use the app with ease.
“Since the net on Poshan Tracker doesn't work many times, we are told to do it post 9 pm from home, once it starts working,” she said. “So, should we take care of our kids at home or sit on the phone and try to figure out the app even at night?”
Demands for dignity
The story flows similarly with Seema, 42, who was at the protest’s makeshift creche with her toddler daughter Radhya. Seema, an anganwadi worker, has been attending the protest every day, travelling from her home in Uttamnagar. She is compelled to bring her daughter along, as there is no one to take care of her at home.
Seema is at the protest with her daughter Radhya.
Toys at the makeshift creche at the protest site.
Radhya is also why Seema is at the protest – Seema worries about how to provide for her with her current honorarium.
“How will our kids get an education through this salary? The amount we get is as good as nothing,” said Seema, who has been working as an anganwadi worker since 2011. “The homes of the big politicians are filled with money. But us anganwadi workers, who work so hard, have none. By calling us social workers, they are doing this.”
The point, she said, is that their work and fieldwork has increased after the Covid pandemic and through the use of the Poshan Tracker app.
“Look at the inflation. Rs 1,000 goes just for the gas,” she said, speaking over the cries of her daughter. “Aad we have to take care of our kids too. You need money for everything. But we have to think before making any kind of expenses.”
Apart from an increase in her honorarium, Seema also wants medical insurance, a pension, holidays, extra pay during the pandemic, safety during Covid duty and – a demand echoed by the hundreds of women gathered for the protest – dignity.
“With this kind of salary,” she said, “thinking about our own needs is out of the question.”
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