Anganwadi workers in Andhra Pradesh who have been on strike for the last 27 days said on Monday that they will continue to agitate till the state government meets their demands, reported The Hindu.

The workers, who have been protesting since December 12, have demanded that the Jagan Mohan Reddy-led administration recognise them as formal government employees, increase their wages from the current Rs 11,500 per month to Rs 26,000, provide them with gratuity benefits and increase their retirement age to 62, in line with other government departments.

On January 6, the Andhra Pradesh government, in a bid to end the strike, had invoked the Essential Services and Maintenance Act, 1971, to categorise anganwadi workers in the state as “essential workers”, prohibiting them from striking or staging a protest for the next six months.

However, anganwadi workers continued with the strike despite the order. According to K Subbaravamma, the state general secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Anganwadi Workers and Helpers Union, around 1.06 lakh anganwadi workers and helpers are participating in the strike. This is the longest-ever strike launched by the anganwadi workers, Subbaravamma told The Hindu.

Criticising the use of police force, Subbaravamma alleged that the government was trying to provoke the workers who were protesting peacefully.

“Jagan Mohan Reddy had promised to pay us higher salaries than those being paid to our Telangana counterparts,” said anganwadi helper Vijayalakshmi. “But, now the government is criticising and threatening us in different ways for demanding that the chief minister keep his word.”

The demands are being made in view of an April 2022 order of the Supreme Court, which held that anganwadi workers and helpers are eligible for gratuity benefits.

Anganwadi workers and helpers are appointed under the Centre’s Integrated Child Protection Scheme. They carry out several tasks, including providing supplementary nutrition to infants and expectant mothers, helping health workers distribute medicines and conducting surveys.

Andhra Pradesh is not the only state where anganwadi workers have held protests in recent weeks. Nearly two lakh anganwadi workers are also protesting in Maharashtra. They have been on strike since December 4 last year and are marching towards Azad Maidan in Mumbai where they will stage a rally on Wednesday against the state government.

In Bihar, anganwadi workers called off a 71-day strike and returned to work on December 9 after assurances by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The workers’ demands included recognition as formal government employees and an increase in wages.