AWCs are pathetic, no place to store anything, no “sarkari” buildings etc. Rents were high and they were not compensated enough. Whereas in the town a minimum of Rs.500/month was required to get a “decent” space for the centre, what was given was miniscule (about Rs. 120, I think). There was often a 2-3 months delay in their salary. There was however no evidence of corruption in the system, they said.
The AWWs according them got no respect whatsoever and were spurned and mocked by those (men) in power. As instances, an AWW mentioned that when they accompany someone to a PHC or hospital, the officials treat them rather badly (“oh, so here you are again” etc. etc.). At this point the ANMs took offence and there was argument between the 2 groups. After some clarifications that it was the “men in power” who were the culprits and not the ANMs, and some invoking of Dhaulpur’s “izzat” being at stake in front of “visitors”, order was restored.
There was a strong feeling among the Anganwadis that the Panchayati Raj had adverse implications for the AWWs. Two major issues were mentioned. First, the selection and appointment of AWWs had become the sarpanch’s domain marked by nepotism. Abilities did not count anymore. When the CDPO used to select, things were still better. Second, now that the Sarpanch had to sign off the registers and on the payments due to them, the process had become somewhat delay-ridden. The Sarpanch often lived in a neighbouring village and an AWW often had to go there more than once, and wait long hours, without the certainty of knowing that her work would be accomplished.
There was passionate protest when it came to the question of the demands made on the AWW’s time for non-ICDS purposes. The AWWs were attached to all conceivable /imaginable programmes – polling, Vitamin A campaigns, Pulse Polio, census. Worse, they were frequently expected to participate with the children from the AWCs in all kinds of rallies not to mention queuing up to receive visiting dignitaries at the railway station. (“yahan khuch bhi nahin hai jisme humko kheencha nahi jata” is the phrase that was used to describe this). Furthermore, there was vociferous complaint that there is a constant pressure on them to do this or that or the other. On an average the AWWs in Dhaulpur attend 6 meetings a month, most often as many as 8. Among the regular ones were: 2 panchayat meetings, 2 DPEP meetings, 1 “parivar kalyan” meeting, 1 medical/health dept meeting. Then there are others “saksharatha”, shiksha vivah, etc. These were apart from the ICDS-related meetings, which were fortnightly. Further, AWWs had to fill in 21 registers, which took far too much time, given all the things that they were expected to do.