Talk shop | Deccan Herald

The critical but ignored conditions of Anganwadi women are due to the entrenched patriarchal society in which we live. Why is a woman’s work devalued?

Women always find spaces to talk – terraces, local gardens, etc. What is unique to Namma Katte is the sense of place it offers visitors. “Namma Katte is a space for chatting and initiating change through conversations. A space where we will dance without control and where we will sell idlis. A space to see exhibitions, theatrical performances and readings. A space to swing. (There is a swing installed inside). A space to sew and think about alternative employment opportunities. A space to sleep and enjoy a cup of Chai. A space to wait and reflect. A space to read and shout. A space that will eventually be occupied by the people themselves,” adds artist Dr Indu Antony, the mastermind behind Namma Katte.

Namma Katte is a shutter store in the heart of Lingarajapuram, Bengaluru which opened in February this year. Dr Indu has been working with the Anganwadis in and around the region for some time now, and she has always felt the need to have space for women to do whatever they want. In many of his interactions, they discussed their stories and the issues plaguing society. And that’s how Namma Katte was born.

Dr. Indu explains that the space is primarily for sharing stories. Especially those that aren’t spoken out loud. “Just two weeks ago a lady told me that her third child was a girl, and her mother-in-law was so unsupportive that she buried the child alive. There are similar stories, like dowry issues, and frequent cases of domestic violence triggered by alcohol abuse.Each story is so personal in its own way, and the fact that there was no way for these women to share them is what needed to be changed.

While Dr Indu’s support for Anganwadi women is indeed appreciable, the need for such a space to exist once again highlights the plight of Anganwadi workers. It is a stark reminder of the conditions in which they work.

Strike the right chord

During the pandemic, Anganwadi workers were forced to volunteer at the centres, carry out vaccination campaigns in remote locations and prepare food for infants, but no safety protocols were followed to them. The women sounded the alarm about the lack of compensation, security and above all dignity.

Renu, an Anganwadi worker from Bengaluru, says: “Anganwadi aurton ka kabhi Samman Nahi Kiya Gaya. Humari ek hi binti hai ki, humey samman dijiye. (Anganwadi workers are humiliated. We deserve respect.)”

“We have come a long way, but unfortunately women are still not seen as breadwinners? And what is even more disappointing is that this work is seen as a ‘voluntary’ extension of the unpaid work they do as mothers,” says Ann Joseph, a social worker in Hyderabad.

“Since the start of the pandemic, I have worked in the area, canvassed, conducted Covid-19 surveys, educated on sanitation and vaccination, distributed health and nutrition supplements, tracked the health of pregnant women in the area, working about 12-13 hours a day After doing so much and more, we don’t even get the respect of the community for forgetting wages Who is there to look after us asks Suneeta from an Anganwadi center in Electronic City, Bengaluru.

“We are working so hard to make sure the supplies reach what is needed. But nobody cares about us. We are underpaid. When we come home, our husbands ask us what’s the point of working if we don’t earn enough money. After all the hard work, no one bothers to listen to us. Aren’t we human beings? says Lata (name changed) an Anganwadi worker in the city.

She is among other workers who fear that if nurseries are introduced (in line with the National Education Policy) in the state for children, it will impact other duties to education. Eventually putting their job at risk.

And although the lives of these women are very different from those of working-class women in India, the underlying truth is the same. “I have been around women for over 10 years and working for their well-being, it all comes down to how the work traditionally done by women is devalued and not seen as worthy well paid. This does not only concern women who provide care or “support” professions such as anganwadi work, domestic work or nursing, but also housewives. No one talks about them and their needs, everyone is preoccupied with the ‘beneficiaries’ and that’s intolerable,” says Manju Kaushik, social worker at the Saheli Trust.

There’s a stereotype here that comes into play, women are better at reading other people’s minds, especially other women. Their intrinsic awareness of understanding the feelings of other humans makes them perfectly suited to being recruited as community workers. However, this “all-female workforce” is denied recognition as a worker providing work. It is often in the name of “honorary workers”, they are denied minimum wage, holidays and other conditions that the job entails. In 2017, some Anganwadi women in Bengaluru protested in the streets and a similar thing happened in Delhi in the month of March 2022.

The state proudly calls them “volunteers” because they assume that women’s care and emotional labor lies outside the mundane world of markets. Workers have been calling for recognition as workers for years.

Recognition will thus be an opportunity to build an alternative structure for women in the labor market.

Moreover, the recognition of care work in the public sphere could also help alleviate the gendered and unequal distribution of household tasks and the burden of unpaid care.

Laura J. Boyer