Mid-day Meal Workers' Struggles in Bihar, Jharkhand And W Bengal Strike in Bihar

RASOIYAS (mid-day meal workers) held a 5-day strike and a 2-day Mahadharna in Patna under the banner of the Bihar State School Rasoiya Sangh (AICCTU) for 23 demands, including: government employee status for Rasoiyas; equal pay for equal work; Rs 18000 honorarium; stop handing over mid-day meal scheme to NGOs; Rasoiyas must get benefits of Ashok Chaudhury Committee recommendations; stop calling Rasoiyas part-time workers; timely and regular payment of honorarium and honorarium for all 12 months of the year. The strike started on 5 October and ended with the announcement that a protest would be held in front of the Parliament on 19 November 2018.

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About 2,000 Rasoiyas participated in the Mahadharna. The Mahadharna was addressed by Mahasangh (Gope group) State President Rambali Prasad, AICCTU State Secretary Ranvijay Kumar, AICCTU leader and ASHA Sangh President Shashi Yadav, Jitendra Prasad, Kamlesh Kumar, and Rasoiya leaders Damyanti Sinha, Leela Verma, Sohila Gupta, Poonam Kumari, Sudha Rani Singh, Meena Devi, Chinta Devi, Madhurani Sinha, Asha Devi, and Saroj Chaube. School Rasoiyas (mid-day meal workers) have been carrying on a long struggle for increase in honorarium, government employee status, and Rs 18,000 monthly wages till they are declared government employees. In 2015, after a long struggle, a high level committee was formed in Bihar. The committee was to submit a report to the government on the situation of all contract and honorarium workers.

The committee was to have submitted its report in 3 months’ time but it was submitted after 4 years on 7 August and it was made public at the Republic Day function on 15 August. It is astounding that there is not a single mention of school rasoiyas in this entire 316-page report, whereas something or the other has been said about all other honorarium workers such as ASHA, Mamta, Anganvadi, Taleemi Markaj, Tola Sewak, Kasturba Gandhi school workers etc.

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The State government has not only cheated school rasoiyas but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also betrayed them. ASHA incentive has been doubled and Anganvadi workers’ honorarium has been increased by 1 ½ times, but there is a deafening silence on rasoiyas. The government’s intention towards the mid-day meal scheme (of which the rasoiyas are the backbone) is easy to understand. Nitish Kumar has said at the meeting of the Niti Ayog that the mid-day meal scheme is lowering the quality of education; Central Minister Upendra Kushwaha says that money should be given instead of meals. The truth is that the enrolment of children in schools has increased and the drop-out rate has decreased due to this scheme.

The government has already handed over the mid-day meal scheme to private voluntary organisations in Banka, Katihar, Vaishali, Nalanda, Gaya, Shivhar, Jamui, Beguserai, Bhagalpur, Aurangabad, Rohtas and Kaimur municipality areas. At places where meals are being supplied by NGOs, rasoiyas are being paid a meagre Rs 600. When the School Rasoiya Sangh tried to register a complaint with the general administration department, they refused to entertain it, saying they would accept it only if it came through the education department. An application has been submitted to the education department and to the Director of the mid-day meal scheme.
The effigy of Prime Minister Modi was burnt on 15-16 September to protest against this betrayal of the rasoiyas. Effigy burning programs were organised in Eastern Champaran, Siwan, Darbhanga, Madhubani, Muzaffarpur, Munger, Jamui and Patna.

Instead of considering the Rasoiyas’ demands, the government issued a circular with directives that mid-day meals should not be obstructed. This, in fact, had the opposite effect, and in many districts teachers’ organisations announced their support; in districts like Bhagalpur, Arwal and Bhojpur they mobilised the Rasoiyas for the Patna mahadharna.

Prior to the dharna in Patna, a rally was organized from Gardanibagh led by AIPWA leader Comrade Saroj Chaubey. The dharna was addressed by AIPWA General Secretary Meena Tiwari, Shashi Yadav, Rambali Prasad, RN Thakur, Ranvijay Kumar, Sohila Gupta, Sona Devi, Poonam Devi, Madhuri Gupta, Leela Verma, Damyanti Sinha, Savitri Devi, Dinesh Prasad Kushwaha, Kunti Devi, Jaykaran Mahto, Sudarshan Yadav, Sunita Devi, Shanichari Devi, Pappu Yadav, Basudev Roy, Rakhi Mehta, Bachu Prasad Singh, Sudha Rani Singh, Meena Devi, Kamlesh Kumar, Jitendra Kumar and others.

 

Rally at Kolkata

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The All Bengal Sangrami Mid-day-meal Workers' Union held a protest rally and demonstration at Sealdah station, Kolkata where hundreds of mid day meal workers assembled to protest against their deplorable conditions on 26 September, 2018.  

The decision of organising a demonstration of mid day meal workers at state level was taken a month ago and leaflets, posters were published. As the campaign picked up, wide enthusiasm was witnessed among the mid day meal workers and in some new pockets they spontaneously came forward, enrolled their membership, formed new units, disseminated the propaganda and a new initiative was witnessed in many places.

Though the sudden call of BJP's bandh on 26th (in an attempt to communalise the issue of police firing on students) initially created some confusion but AICCTU leadership was firm to hold the demonstration on that day, come what may. As the propaganda gathered steam, the TMC people also started to foil this initiative in a number of places and after the bandh call by BJP, the administration issued directives to ensure the presence of all MDM workers in the schools. However, despite all these odds and disruptions, MDM workers assembled enthusiastically, foiling the bandh call by BJP and the demonstration generated new fighting spirit among the MDM workers.

The main demands were Rs. 18,000 minimum wages, to implement the recommendations of 42nd national labour commission, recognition of mid day meal workers as workers, to provide social security, PF-ESI, bonus during festivals, and other demands. AICCTU and AIPWA leaders addressed the meeting and it was resolved that the leadership of the union shall meet the education minister on October 1, and submit the charter of demands. The meeting was presided over by Com. Mina Pal, President of the union.

 

Jharkhand Rasoiyas Fight for Rights

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Jharkhand mid-day meal workers (Rasoiyas) are struggling against the Raghubar-led BJP government for their 15-point charter of demands: reinstate all sacked Rasoiyas and Sanyojikas; give Class IV government employee status to Rasoiyas-Sanyojikas as in Tamil Nadu; Rs 18000 minimum wage per month for all Rasoiyas-Sanyojikas as declared by the Central government; re-open the 350 schools that have earlier been closed down; revoke the Jharkhand government’s decision to close down 10,000 schools and immediately re-open the 10,000 schools (out of a total of 42,000) closed down by the government; speedy payment of 8 months’ arrears due to Rasoiyas; Rs 5 lakh free life insurance; guarantee that school teachers will not be made to do any work other than teaching work. From 25 September 2018 the Rasoiyas have been holding an indefinite ‘Dera Dalo Ghera Dalo’ agitation in front of the Governor of Jharkhand.

The Jharkhand government has made up its mind to implement a scheme to hand over the mid-day meal government scheme to private companies. According to this scheme, a single private company will prepare mid-day meals at a single centre for 1 lakh children. It is believed that as it will take a long time to prepare 1 lakh meals at a single centre, the quality of the food will be affected. So, in order to preserve the quality, chemicals will be added to the food. This will have a dangerous effect on the physical as well as mental health of the children.  

An indefinite dharna at the Raj Bhavan began on 25 September. An average of 150-200 Rasoiyas-Sanyojikas attended the dharna daily. But the Rasoiyas’ anger escalated as the Raj Bhavan paid no heed to their agitation. Another cause for the anger was also that this agitation has been going on serially for the last 3 years but the Raghubar government has paid no heed. Finally, as per the decision of the Rasoiya Sangh, 5000-7000 Rasoiyas (and some Sanyojikas) marched from marched from the Morahabadi Maidan in Ranchi to the Chief Minister’s house to stage a gherao. The police had placed barricades on the road and tried to stop the rally near the barricade. The protesters and the police exchanged words. But the Rasoiyas did not stop, and moved forward breaking the barricade. Almost at a run, the protesters reached the Ram Dayal Munda Park near the Guest House, when the police let loose a brutal lathi charge on them.

Male police hit the women Rasoiyas with lathis and chased them, beating them all the while. Even with small infants in their arms, the women bravely opposed the beatings of the police. They held firm to their protest and lay prone on the ground, jamming the crossroads in front of the Guest House. The road remained blocked for 4 hours. Sadar SDO Garima Singh was present at the venue but the protesters were not pacified by her. At around 2 pm CO Dhananjay Singh came, and went along with Rasoiya Sangh President and 7 other members of the delegation to the Chief Minister’s house for talks. But the talks were a failure. The leaders of the Rasoiya Sangh insisted on talks directly with the Chief Minister himself, and 12 October was fixed as the date for talks with the CM.

Dozens of Rasoiyas were injured in the lathi charge, of whom 2 were seriously injured and admitted in hospital. The Sangh declared that from 10 October onwards Rasoiyas and mid-day meal workers would be on an indefinite strike in protest against the brutal lathi charge on peacefully protesting Rasoiyas. About 2 lakh Rasoiyas would be on strike until their demands are not met, and mid-day meals would not be prepared in schools. This declaration was implemented from 10 October and the Rasoiyas went on a state-wide strike. Despite this, the Chief Minister did not give them time for talks, and on 13 October 9000-10,000 Rasoiyas jammed the main crossroads of Ranchi city for more than 3 hours.

The sate-wide strike by the Rasoiyas is still continuing. Para teachers’ organisations and government school teachers’ organisations have assured full support to the strike. This entire agitation was conducted by the Jharkhand State School Rasoiya Sanyojika Sangh led by President Ajit Prajjapati, General Secretary Premnath Vishwakarma, and Treasurer Anita Devi.