Mid-day meal workers taking part in protests at Freedom Park in Bengaluru. (Photo credit: News9/ Prajwal D’Souza)
Bengaluru: Sharadavva Basappa’s world came crashing down when she was suddenly relieved of her duties as a mid-day meal worker in Karnataka‘s Bagalkote. Basappa, 60, was among a few thousand who were let go by the state government as the schools resumed in May 2022.
She is part of the massive indefinite protest by mid-day meal workers under the aegis of the Karnataka Rajya Akshara Dasoha Naukarara Sangha, an affiliate of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), which began on Tuesday in Bengaluru’s Freedom Park.
As this reporter started speaking to Basappa, who was sitting among many other workers in the scorching heat, she started to weep.
“They (government) have left us to die. We are asked to leave out of the blue. Where will we go? There is no one to look after us,” Basappa told News9.
Massive protest by mid-day meal workers in #Karnataka began today in #Bengaluru‘s #FreedomPark. They are protesting against the #Karnataka govt order relieving those who turned 60 on March 31, 2022. Protestors have asked govt to give them retirement benefits. pic.twitter.com/ObSqDWCR5q
She began working as a cook under the government’s mid-day meal scheme in 2002.
“After serving for nearly 20 years, this is how we are being treated. When I began in 2002, we were paid an honorarium of Rs 300. When I was asked to leave in 2022, I was paid Rs 2,600,” Basappa said as she rued serving under the scheme.
“When we started working in the school, three of us had to cook and serve nearly 400 students. After nearly 20 years, there are close to 800-900 students and only six people, who cook, clean and serve those students,” she added.
The government’s decision had received outrage earlier as well from mid-day meal workers and activists.
Sharadavva Basappa (centre) with other protesters in Freedom Park in Bengaluru.
Despite multiple pleas, the government has not responded to their demands, many other mid-day meal workers, who spoke to News9 said.
The government had reportedly directed the headmasters of schools to relieve those who had turned 60 on March 31, 2022.
Basappa is one among thousands who have been affected by the state government’s decision.
Speaking to News9, 60-year-old Thayamma from the Ballari district, who was also part of the protests, said that the government’s decision has just added to their burdens, as they already face hardships due to rising prices of commodities.
“Our children also can’t look after us. They have their families to take care of and the rising prices have just added to their burdens. They ask us: Till now you were working for the government, where is the money? Why haven’t you received it?” Thayamma said.
“We don’t know what to do. Many of us borrowed some money from our neighbours just to come to Bengaluru and take part in the protests,” she added.
Balavva, 37, a widow, who began working in a government school three years ago, told News9 that both her kids do odd jobs after school so that they can put food on the table.
“We don’t get the honorarium monthly. It comes once every three or six months. This is the fourth time I am part of protests like this but nothing has happened yet,” Balamma told News9.
“It is hard to survive. Both my children do odd jobs and hence we can pay school fees. Since I belong to the Scheduled Caste, my children get some scholarships,” she added.
She further alleged that the honorarium for this year, from March to June, wasn’t released to date.
Many others who spoke to News9 echoed the views of Thayavva and Balamma.
The protesters, many of whom came to Freedom Park with their children, said they are ready to sleep on the ground but will not leave until they receive a written promise from the state government.
News9 had earlier reported that before the 2022 state budget, a hike of Rs 500 was given to the workers in 2018. Under this, the head cook receives Rs. 2,700 and the assistant cook receives Rs. 2,600.
Earlier in March, Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, in the state budget, had increased the honorarium of mid-day meal workers by Rs 1,000.
The workers are yet to receive the hiked amount, alleged Giriappa Poojary, a member of the Raichur mid-day meal workers union.
“We demand that the workers who reach 60 years of age should be given a lump sum amount or a pension. The hike promised in the budget has not been paid yet. They haven’t even been paid their regular honorarium from May 16, when the schools resumed, to date,” Poojary told News9.
“On May 11, Education Minister BC Nagesh had promised us that our needs will be met. However, nothing has been done yet,” he added.
The Karnataka Rajya Akshara Dasoha Naukarara Sangha, which held the protest on Tuesday, laid several demands before the government, including Rs 1,00,000 lumpsum amount for the 60-year-olds who are relieved.
“The hike proposed in the budget should be paid to the workers beginning January 2022. Their honorarium should be paid on the fifth of every month,” the trade union demanded.
Speaking to News9, Karnataka Education Minister BC Nagesh said a proposal has been given to the Finance Department.
“A proposal has been given to the Finance department. Once they give a clearance, it will be implemented,” the minister said.
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'Left to die': Mid-day meal workers begin indefinite protest against K'taka govt order, demand retirement benefits – News9 LIVE