‘Hope govt fulfils dream of a respectable salary’: Sumitra Devi
- I had to learn about Covid-19 and ways to protect people from it so that I could guide women and kids in my area, says Devi, an anganwadi worker.
Sumitra Devi has been an anganwadi worker in Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj city for about three decades. In this time, the 50-year-old woman became somewhat of a multi-tasker. She kept records of dry ration for distribution to children and would-be mothers , counselled them on the importance of and ways to maintain personal hygiene and a balanced diet, managed distribution of food, and ensured that women and children in her area got adequate nutrition and primary health services.
Covid-19 added more duties to her already full roster. She learnt how to check people’s temperature and symptoms, raised awareness about the virus and hygiene practices, distributed masks to migrant workers, and informed authorities about people with Covid-like symptoms.
And, late last year, she even learnt to administer vaccination as part of the government’s plan to use anganwadi workers to inoculate the rural population.
But for Devi, there was little material improvement in her life. “Only the colour of my uniform changed in these years,” she said.
It was sky blue when the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was in power between 2007 and 2012, then became green when the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party assumed office in 2012 and changed to pink after the Yogi Adityanath-led Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power in the 2017 elections.
“My dream of getting respect and wages like a regular employee remained unfulfilled,” she added.
A mother of five, Devi gets a fixed salary of ₹4,500 per month. Additionally, she gets ₹250 a month as performance-linked incentive if her supervisor and officials are impressed with her work. “This comes to ₹150 per day, less than even the wages of an unskilled worker,” she said.
The pandemic upended her personal and professional life. “Suddenly, I had to learn about Covid-19 and ways to protect from it so that I could guide dozens of women and around 50 kids registered at my centre. Ration and food distribution became a challenge as we were instructed not to call women and kids to the centre,” she said.
Instead, she went to their homes to counsel and distribute food packets.”My retired husband helped me manage the home and even in distribution work,” she added.
Devi’s work also included implementing missions such as Anaemia Mukt Bharat, administering iron and folic acid supplements and vitamin-A supplements.
Several states such as Odisha and Delhi provide additional money to anganwadi workers, taking the monthly allowance to up to ₹10,000 per month. The Centre provided ₹20,532 crore for Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), under which anganwadi centers come, for the financial year 2020-21, 3.5% percent more than the allocation in the previous financial year. Uttar Pradesh has roughly 375,000 anganwadi workers and helpers who work in 188,149 centres.
For the Union budget, she wants the finance ministry to recognise the work done by anganwadi workers during Covid-19 to bolster the country’s health infrastructure, and provide them with regular salaries. She also seeks an increase in allocation for ICDS so that the infrastructure of anganwadi centers can improve.
“I hope the new budget finally fulfils my dream of a respectable salary of ₹18,000 to ₹20,000 per month, acknowledging the importance of the work we do in ensuring health and well-being of would-be mothers and new born kids,” she said.