December 18, 2022
AIFAWH Conference Resolves to Take Struggles to New Heights

A R Sindhu

THE tenth national conference of the three-decade old All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH) was held from December 6-9, 2022 at the historic city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu.

Reviewing the experiences of the struggles held in the last three years against the pandemic, malnutrition and hunger as well as the unprecedented struggles against the anti-ICDS policies of the governments in various states, the conference resolved “to heighten our struggles and equip our organisation to take on the corporate communal regime and the capitalist order. We have to ideologically, politically and organisationally reorient our work to build a strong countrywide movement of anganwadi workers and helpers to achieve our demands”

The conference venue was named after Comrade Ranjana Nirula, leader of CITU. The conference started with the president of AIFAWH, Usharani hoisting the AIFAWH flag and K Hemalata, president, CITU hoisting the CITU flag. R Lenin, vice president of the reception committee welcomed the delegates. Veena Gupta, secretary, AIFAWH, placed the condolence resolution.

Tapan Sen, general secretary, CITU inaugurated the conference. He explained the dangers posed by neoliberal order where schemes like ICDS which offer basic services to people, are being deprived of funds, which would result in its gradual death. He stressed on the very important role played by AIFAWH in the trade union movement, by taking the lead on many issues.

The draft report was presented by AIFAWH general secretary, A R Sindhu which dealt with the political situation and movement in part I, and the organisational situation in part II. The role of anganwadi workers and unions in organising other sectors and taking up social issues has been dealt in part III. These two tasks were emphasised since the last two conferences.

The report while appreciating the unprecedented struggles of resistance as well as defiance of anganwadi workers and helpers, has pointed out the weaknesses as well. The weaknesses in consolidating the achievements of struggles into organization; in linking the national struggles against the policies and the state/local struggles on issues; lack of planning, follow up and review; lack of political understanding at various levels; weakness in mobilising the support of the society and the beneficiaries; weakness in mass campaign and cadre education etc were pointed out. The practice of mass campaign among the beneficiaries has come down after the covid pandemic and lockdown. Various wrong practices – undemocratic functioning, lack of financial transparency etc were also pointed out. In spite of militant struggles, achievements and growing influence among the workers and helpers, the unions in many states are stagnant and could not increase the membership and advance. This needs urgent intervention.

The poor representation of helpers at various levels of the organization – from centre to the sector level – has been taken up very seriously in the conference. Feudal attitudes towards the helpers and blocking the helpers from becoming leaders and not even allowing them to attend meetings and conferences, was discussed in the conference.

The discussions were held in three parts focusing on experiences of the movement; on organisation and on the task of organising other sectors and intervention on social issues; and on future tasks. 69 delegates took part in the discussions sharing their experiences and giving valuable suggestions.

The issues of non-payment of  remuneration, other allowances and rent for months together; non supply of food grains coupled with price rise affecting the food supply in anganwadis; harassment in the name of digitisation/POSHAN tracker; cutting down the number of beneficiaries in the name of Aadhaar linking; taking away the pre-school education component from the anganwadis and giving it to schools in the name of NEP; increasing non-ICDS extra work, communalisation of anganwadis, were some of the main issues discussed in the conference along  with the experiences of state level struggles against these. The importance of developing stronger, mightier struggles against the policies to dismantle ICDS, was underlined by all the states. The need to take up the implementation of SC judgment on gratuity at the national level was also emphasised by the delegates. 12 resolutions on various issues were adopted by the conference.

The main organisational weakness that was highlighted by the conference was the lack of adequate conscious, committed and capable cadres and the need of cadre development, especially in Hindi speaking states.

P Shanmugam, AIKS secretariat member, A Lasar, AIAWU vice president and U Vasuki, AIDWA vice president, greeted the delegates and expressed solidarity to the struggles. Surekha, secretary of the ASHA Workers and Facilitators Federation of India and Jaibhagwan, vice president of the Mid Day Meal Workers Federation of India also greeted the delegates and called upon them to intensify the joint actions of scheme workers and help each other in the expansion of organisation.

A total of 616 delegates and observers from 21 states – Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal attended the conference. Although it was directed that anganwadi helpers should constitute 30 per cent of the delegates, only 8 per cent of the delegates were helpers, reflecting the weakness of the organization on this aspect. Except for Kerala who had exceeded their quota by bringing 35 per cent helpers as delegates, no other state could fulfill the quota for helpers. Kerala has achieved this through continuous persuasion, sensitisation and regular follow-up at all levels of organisation from panchayat to state level, insisting on having helpers at all levels of committees. Nine mini workers also attended the conference.

21 per cent of the delegates were below 45 years. Only 14 per cent were above 60 years. More than 51 per cent of the delegates have been working for more than ten years in the organisation. 35 per cent of them were attending an all India conference for the first time. Six delegates have attended all the conferences. 20 per cent of the delegates belong to SC/ST community and 28 per cent to OBC and minorities. Only 27 per cent of the delegates belong to general category. 38 per cent of the delegates have less than Rs 15,000 monthly family income. 37 per cent of the delegates faced social oppression and 20 per cent gender oppression and violence. This includes 13 delegates who faced domestic violence. More than 30 per cent of the delegates were victimised for participating in union activities. More than 50 comrades were jailed for their union activities, the period ranging from one day to one month. The profile of the delegates shows the adverse conditions which the members of the union face and the kind of struggles they are taking up in all spheres of life. It also shows the kind of the struggles the union activists are taking up.

In the conference, enough time was allocated for group discussions and translation to local languages. The future tasks were discussed separately and specific targets and quotas were taken district-wise by the states. The conference took a quota to enroll more than six lakhs membership in 2023. The conference also decided to mobilise more than 35,000 anganwadi workers and helpers for the April 5, 2023 Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally in New Delhi.

Since the last two conferences, AIFAWH has been taking up the political tasks of organising people belonging to sectors and sections other than anganwadi employees – women, workers, peasantry, agricultural workers etc, by taking up their issues and problems in coordination with their organisations. The ninth conference decided to organise campaign against communalism and social discriminations and violence. Review of these tasks was self-critical and states proposed achievable specific tasks on organising sections of Mid Day Meal, ASHA , construction, MNREGA and other sector workers, agricultural workers, farmers, women etc.

The report and the audited accounts along with the quotas for membership and mobilisation were adopted unanimously after discussion.

The conference elected a 75 member working committee with 25 office bearers. Three helpers were elected as office bearers and 13 helpers (26 per cent) as working committee members of AIFAWH. A R Sindhu, Usharani and Anju Maini were reelected as the general secretary, president and treasurer.

K Hemalata, CITU president and former AIFAWH general secretary, gave the concluding address. She reminded the dangers of the communal corporate government and the important role that the anganwadi union members must play in countering the neoliberal policies as well as the communal danger.

The conference concluded with AIFAWH leadership felicitating the reception committee members. The founder leaders of AIFAWH and working committee members who got relieved from the leadership were also felicitated. The conference ended with slogans.

The conference took the immediate tasks of massive campaign and mobilisation on January 6, 2023 for the ‘jawaab maango abhiyaan’ and gherao of MPs by scheme workers; and for the April 5, 2023 Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Rally. The conference decided to organise massive multiple days’ struggle of anganwadi workers and helpers on basic issues of minimum wage, gratuity and pension and for strengthening pre-school education in anganwadis, to be held in Delhi or simultaneously at state headquarters by 2024.

The conference called upon the union cadre to develop mightier struggles to save ICDS and ‘bring and develop the best dedicated ideologically equipped class cadres with most innovative, creative, democratic and inclusive methods and through them reaching out to the masses to prepare them for the most militant class confrontation to change this system.’