When the Women Anganwadi Workers of Assam Wrote History: May 2017

The summer of 2017 saw the largest and longest sustained women workers’ protest movement in the recorded history of Assam. The Anganwadi workers’ picked up momentum when on May 2 2017 the association’s (Association of the Assam State Anganwadi Workers and Helpers affiliated to CITU) meeting with the State Social Welfare Minister Naba Kumar Doley remained inconclusive. Apart from honorarium, the protesters had been demanding better infrastructure in the Anganwadi centres of the State, a one-time assistance for the Anganwadi workers and helpers after retirement, and other facilities like potable water, repair of the centres, teaching tools and apparatus, first aid medicines, timely promotion and upgrading the mini centres into full-fledged ones.

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The movement in May was followed by months of talks with the state government. As the secretary of the association Indira Newar explained the experience of the movement then: “The Anganwadi workers and helpers remained patient after chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal assured us that the state government would look into their grievances. Ever since the presentation of the state budget in February, several rounds of talks were held at bureaucratic and ministerial levels on the demands but they couldn’t yield any fruitful results.” It was the lackadaisical attitude of the BJP government in the state that forced the workers to take the movement to the higher level.

The massive sit-in the state capital Guwahati began since May 2 and the association had given an ultimatum to the state government that if it doesn’t respond to the 8-point demand charter then the movement would take a militant course.

And, these were surely not empty words or rhetoric. The date was 9th May when Nearly 10,000 protesters from all districts of the State, except from Barak Valley, assembled near Dighalipukhuri since the morning. According to the DCP (Central) Ranjan Bhuyan, the protesters tried to break the police cordon and march towards Dispur, when water cannon was used to disperse the crowd. Though the police said that no one was injured during the incident, the association claimed that their member Sahera Khatun from Barpeta was injured by the water cannon, whereas Malati Lahkar (Tihu) and Hazera Begum (Goalpara) were injured during the protest.

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The Anganwadi workers who train children have been receiving monthly remuneration of Rs 4,000, while the helpers of the centres, who assist the workers, get Rs 2,000 per month. The association has been demanding an additional Rs 3,500 for the helpers and extra remuneration of Rs 5,000 for the Anganwadi workers. “Is it possible to run our families with monthly remuneration of less than Rs 5,000 at a time when the prices of the essential commodities are soaring every year? Is it justice,” questioned Newar.

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The history that was scripted last May continues to be written every single day. And, so is the future. The women Anganwadi workers’ movement across the country represents one of the most militant sections of the Indian trade union movement today and it has shown extreme courage and conviction to develop the struggle from the narrow realm of ‘economism’ to that of ‘political struggle’. Remember one thing, the concerns of the movement are not only limited to the economic questions of the workers- they include the crucial question of child care and the state’s response towards it. The movement hence by the very nature of the articulation of the demands no longer remains a merely workers movement, but becomes a larger movement whose base includes the working class families which are dependent on the Anganwadi centres. The main challenge is to channelize these possibilities, which can hit right at the heart of the neoliberal consensus.

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