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The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme is a central Scheme under the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India, which aims at the overall development of the children under six years, through anganwadi centres. It provides supplementary nutrition and referral health services to children under six years and pregnant women and lactating mothers and also to the teenage girls. It also provides pre school education to the 3-6 year old children. Started in 1975 in 33 blocks in an experimental basis, it has now expanded to --- blocks in the country. Nearly 10 lakhs anganwadi centres function all over the country. The anganwadi workers and Helpers are grass root level workers who impart these services to the poor and downtrodden. But the government does not recognise them as workers but call them ‘voluntary social workers” and give them a pittance in the name of ‘honorarium.’
The All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH) was formed by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) in a national convention in Delhi in 1989. Its first conference was held in Udaipur in Rajasthan in 1991 with Vimal Ranadive as President, Bhabatosh Roy as Working President and Neelima Maitra as the General Secretary. Subsequent conferences were held in Calcutta in 1994, Bhopal in 1998, Puri in 2002, Bangalore in 2005 and the sixth conference in Chandigarh in 2009.
During these twenty years, AIFAWH has led several militant struggles on the demands of anganwadi employees; it has also been consistently fighting for the universalisation of ICDS and for its effective implementation. It has been making efforts to rally the support of the beneficiaries of ICDS – the lakhs of women and children belonging to poor peasants’, agricultural workers’, unorganised sector workers’ families in this struggle. On two occasions it has collected crores of signatures from the beneficiaries all over the country on a memorandum to the Prime Minister against privatisation of ICDS and improvement in the conditions of the anganwadi employees. It regularly publishes booklets and leaflets and conducts campaigns on ICDS and anganwadi employees.
The sustained campaigns and struggles led by AIFAWH and its affiliated unions in different states have not only helped in achieving some benefits for the anganwadi employees, they have created self confidence among these lakhs of women workers, most of them working in the villages, hills and urban slums. They have also led to increasing awareness about the importance of ICDS in ensuring the right to food, education and health of the children below 6 years.
Today, AIFAWH has units in 23 states in the country across Jammu and Kashmir to Kerala and Tripura to Punjab.
Members of AIFAWH actively participate in the joint trade union campaigns and struggles, for the improvement of the conditions of the workers in different sectors, of the agricultural workers, peasants and women.