Taitri Devi (30) of Siwan in Bihar and Kundali Adhe (50) of Parbhani district in Maharashtra have a lot in common. Both work as mid-day meal cooks in schools, earn Rs 1,250 a month, and were in Delhi on Saturday to demand higher wages from the Centre.
On the final day of the ‘Mahapadav’, a three-day relay dharna of workers at Parliament Street, Devi and Adhe protested for the same cause alongside 4,000-plus workers. From the SBI building to the Jeevan Vihar building sat a sea of people — accredited social health activists (ASHA) and anganwadi workers, construction labourers, tea estate employees, chowkidars and mid-day meal cooks.
“Five hundred of us have come from Siwan to demand better wages. We get Rs 1,250 a month, and that too is delayed. We work from 7 am to 4 pm and should get minimum wage of Rs 18,000,” said Sohaila Gupta of the Bihar Rajya Vidyalaya Rasoiya Sang.
Kunti Devi, 30, chimed in: “We are made to clean toilets and sweep the school. It’s not part of our job. How do we raise children with Rs 1,250 a month? We also want four saris a year as uniform.”
The 12-point charter, prepared by the Central Trade Unions, demands “enforcement of all basic labour laws without any exception or exemption, and stringent punitive measures for those violating the welfare labour law”, “universal social security cover for all workers” and “monthly minimum wages of not less than Rs 18,000 with provisions of indexation”.
MoS for Labour and Employment (Independent Charge) Santosh Gangwar told The Sunday Express, “A lot of these issues are from the past, and some are in process. We don’t have a negative attitude towards them. The solution to every problem is through dialogue. My appeal is that instead of dharna, engage and hold dialogue with the government.”
Also present at the rally was Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, who said, “Workers are making a reasonable demand… they should get minimum wage. This protest is a warning to the government.”
One of the thousands who showed up at the rally was 60-year-old guard Harbhajan Singh from Kapurthala in Punjab, who makes Rs 33 a day. “I work outside government offices and try and do other odd jobs to support my family of eight. In 2017, who earns Rs 33 a day?” he asked, heading to Gurdwara Bangla Sahib for a meal.
On dirty carpets, vendors sold peanuts, hair bands, bags, jackets and books — from Premchand’s Godan to a Hindi translation of Nikolai Gogol’s The Portrait, from books on Fidel Castro to the works of Balraj Sahni. Men and women queued up outside public toilets, while some thronged food stalls at Jantar Mantar, which otherwise stood quiet, in sharp contrast to Parliament Street.
Also in the crowd were construction worker Ananda Amey (52) from Kasargod in Kerala, ASHA worker Jharna Sahu (43) from Dhamtari, Chhattisgarh, and mason Madan Bosumtari (50) from Kamrup in Assam — all bound by the same demands. Twelve ASHA workers from Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar, 17 from Tilak Nagar and eight from Dwarka also turned up, dressed in pink blazers, some with their children. “We work endlessly for Rs 1,500 a month. We need to be recognised as government employees and paid accordingly,” said 38-year-old Urmila Sati.