THE women of Uttarakhand have always played a leading role in various democratic movements including struggle for Uttarakhand state and Chipko Aandolan. Though the governments that came to power after statehood was accorded to Uttarakhand have made tall claims and promises regarding women empowerment, the fact is that despite becoming a separate state, the conditions of the working class and especially, the working class women have been grossly ignored. The examples of this are the working women's new contingents of ASHA, Anganwadi and midday meal workers. Appointed for implementation of governmental policies, they are denied minimum wages, let alone be granted the status of a government employee. However, a new consciousness has led them to establish themselves as a formidable challenge in front of both the central and the state governments against their detestable neoliberal labour policies and the anti-worker amendments taking place in labour laws. These women workers have added a new dimension to the workers’ movement in Uttarakhand.
The regular movemental initiatives by ASHA workers against the neglect of the government towards them and its betrayal of its promises are transforming them as a challenger to the anti-worker government. These initiatives are also important since the state machinery is consistently trying to break the AICCTU affiliated ASHA Health Workers’ union and the Uttarakhand Anganwadi Karamchari Union. However, despite the increasing onslaughts by the government, these unions have emerged more united and stronger through their consistent struggles.
ASHA Union organised a successful state conference in Nainital on 31 August 2014 in face of extremely adverse conditions. This was followed by a massive ‘Jawaab Do, Hissab Do’ Rally in Dehradun. The rally was attended by hundreds of ASHA workers from far off places in the state. Since then the ASHA workers have continued and intensified their movement. Recently on 11 July 2016, the ASHA workers presented a new challenge in front of the state government by boycotting the ‘diarrhoea fortnight’. On 23 July, as part of a state wide programme, the union organised a huge demonstration. During this, the police tried to forcibly stop the workers outside women’s hospital in Haldwani from burning the effigy of the central government. The state administration filed cases against ASHA workers for burning the effigy and causing a jam on the highway. This has certainly added a new chapter of state repression to the ongoing ASHA workers struggle in the state who are now facing a kind of witch-hunt with criminal charges framed selectively against them. The town witnessed many other protests on the same day by ruling parties causing heavy traffic jams which could go on unhindered by the administration and the police. However, this boycott of the ‘diarrhoea fortnight’ was not confined to Haldwani. The agitations were also effectively carried out in Nainital, Garampani, Ramnagar, Kotabag, Baazpur, Ranikhet, Bhikiyasain, Salt, Syalde, Didihaat, Pithoragarh, Gangolithaat, Champavat, Bageshwar, Lohaghat, Pati, Tanakpur and other areas.
On 25 July, a gherao was organised of the camp office of the state finance minister Indira Hridayesh with the demand of withdrawal of framed cases against Asha workers. They also highlighted their pending demands of payment of incentives and monthly wages. Despite her unwillingness, the minister was forced to enter into a dialogue with the workers.
It is noteworthy that ASHA workers were appointed throughout the country for the purpose of mother-infant security and especially for rural health. Currently ASHA workers are provided with monthly honorarium in 9 states of the country. In Uttarakhand they receive neither monthly wages nor honorarium. The central government is not implementing a uniform nationwide policy for the ASHA workers as it denies to see them as workers. This is despite the fact they have been saddled with numerous works including mother-infant health, Pulse-Polio Campaign, Family Welfare, Malaria survey, ORS distribution, keeping a watch on violence against women, Chief Minister Health Insurance Scheme and training for calamities. However, they do not receive even a penny in the name of monthly wages or honorarium, their wages/honorarium unjustifiably fluctuates with the amount of work assigned to them.
In the same way, Uttarakhand Anganwadi Karamchari Union also pressed for their demands through state wide demonstrations held on 10 June. They burnt the effigy of the Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Mrs. Maneka Gandhi. The Anganwadi workers are expected to go beyond their prescribed duties and be involved in various kinds of survey, census, etc. However, neither does the government shows any concern towards regularising them and pays them an amount which is even below the minimum wage fixed by the government itself. The workload of anganwadi workers (worker, helper and mini) is being continuously increased and they are expected to provide the services of a skilled labour, however they do not even receive the wages due to unskilled labour. There has been a massive cut in the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) by the Modi government and the Union Minister for Women and Child Development has categorically refused to increase the honorarium of the Anganwadi workers. On 16 February, six trade union centres had organised a massive rally and demonstration at Delhi against the Modi government’s attempt to destroy the ICDS.
These women workers' trade unions also represent the strong aspirations of women’s liberation from patriarchal chains and the structural oppression that they are subjected to.