W Power 2024

Anganwadi worker Ranima Das: Going the extra mile

Anganwadi worker Ranima Das has set up a childcare centre at home in the absence of one in her village. She helps children join school and attends to pregnant women, among other jobs, for a meagre pay

Naandika Tripathi
Published: Mar 28, 2024 11:51:16 AM IST
Updated: Apr 8, 2024 02:04:37 PM IST

Anganwadi worker Ranima Das: Going the extra mile Ranima Das, Anganwadi Worker Image: Nilotpal Baruah for Forbes India
For the last 17 years, Ranima Das has been the backbone of all women and children in Parakhowa village, located in Dokmoka taluka of Karbi Anglong in Assam. Every morning, she opens her doors for 15-odd children who spend a few hours playing, eating and learning new things. As the government has not set up a separate rural childcare centre, Das, 44, converted a small space in her house where she provides lunch and educates children aged between three and six.

“Even after several requests, the authorities have not provided a separate space, so I’ve been working like this since I joined as an Anganwadi worker in 2007,” says Das, giving a tour of her house on a WhatsApp video call.

Apart from this, Das goes for house visits and provides early care for pregnant women. She also collects health and nutritional data on mothers and their children in her village, which has close to 150 houses. Like many Anganwadi workers, Das plays a crucial role in preparing children to enter school and the workforce later. The children who grew up with her have gone on to become doctors and even joined the police force.

Anganwadi worker Ranima Das: Going the extra mileIn 1975, the government launched the Anganwadi programme—under the Integrated Child Development Service to combat child hunger and malnutrition—to ensure child and maternal care. There are 13.63 lakh sanctioned Anganwadi centres across India, which have 13.48 lakh Anganwadi workers and 10.23 lakh Anganwadi helpers.

These grassroots workers take government goals to the needy. For a country to reduce maternal and infant mortality, it is crucial to improve its position in the Global Human Development Index. Most rural women and children are malnourished, and their growth is stunted. Children upto six years, and pregnant and lactating women -need special attention for their nutrition, health and hygiene. “The Anganwadi workers take total responsibility for their welfare. For this, they may even have to spend their whole day,” says BV Vijayalakshmi, general secretary, All India Anganwadi Workers Federation, who nominated Das on Forbes India’s W-power list.

“We chose Ranima to represent about 23 lakh Anganwadi workers and helpers because she’s experienced and an expert in advising villagers on how to take care of their health, particularly women. Though she belongs to a poor, backward, Scheduled Caste community, her dedication and commitment to her duties earned her special recognition as a didi to everyone,” she adds.

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During her interim budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced health cover for Anganwadi and Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers under the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana. Health coverage of up to ₹5 lakh per family annually will be provided for secondary and tertiary medical care.

Anganwadi workers are underpaid and overworked. Their responsibilities have piled up over the years, from being messengers of schemes to data collectors for the government. In March 2021, the Ministry of Women and Child Development introduced the Poshan Tracker app, which collects real-time data and is a feedback mechanism to help improve local decision-making. Anganwadi workers have to enter data along parameters such childcare, education, meals, and growth. Das complains that the phone doesn’t function smoothly, and that data entry consumes a lot of time.

For all of this, Das is paid a meagre ₹6,500 per month. About 3,000 Anganwadi workers and helpers staged a protest in February in Guwahati, Assam, demanding increased remuneration and employment opportunities. Additionally, around 35,000 Anganwadi workers in Uttarakhand boycotted work to push for their demand for permanent state government employee status.

Anganwadi worker Ranima Das: Going the extra mile

The honorarium paid to Anganwadis is split in a 60:40 ratio between the central and state governments. The latter has the liberty to fix the amount. Recently, the Odisha government hiked their monthly salary from ₹7,500 to ₹10,000. In West Bengal, the honorarium is ₹8,250 a month; in Chhattisgarh, the state government has increased it to ₹10,000; and in Tamil Nadu, it is ₹13,452 a month.

According to Supreme Court guidelines, equal pay has to be paid for equal work. But there’s no such equality of pay for Anganwadi workers.

“If the government will not give them a hike and equal pay, we’re going to see more of what we recently witnessed in Bihar, which directly impacted the children and mothers,” says Madhuri Kshirsagar, National Secretary of All India Anganwadi worker’s federation. “A total of 2,357 Anganwadi centres remained closed for over two months after all Anganwadi workers in Banka district were suspended in November for taking part in a strike demanding higher pay.” Their services were later restored, and the chief minister assured to increase the honorarium.

Meanwhile, Das and her helper continue serving the children and pregnant women in the village and keep nudging the authorities to increase their pay, provide a separate centre, and supply good quality food for children.

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