Bengaluru: As many as 5,000 midday meal women cooks and their helpers from across Karnataka have gone on an indefinite strike here from this week to demand a wage hike, a trade union leader said on Thursday.
The women, protesting for the past three days at the Freedom Park in the city centre, represent over a lakh midday meal cooks and helpers in Karnataka, Centre for Trade Unions (CITU) General Secretary Malini Mestha told IANS here.
CITU, to which the women cooks’ association is affiliated, has been spearheading the protest. Protesters said they will continue with their agitation till they get a wage hike assurance from the government.
These cooks get a meagre Rs 2,200 per month and their helpers Rs 2,100 for dishing out meals to students in state-run and aided schools.
There are over 119,000 cooks working in the southern state who prepare meals for over 65,000 primary and secondary school students.
“Many of these women cooks are widows and from backward castes and are the sole breadwinners of their families,” she said.
On the other hand, their Kerala counterparts get a minimum of Rs 400 per day, adding to a monthly earning of around Rs 10,400.
“We are demanding at least Rs 5,000 per month as well as pension enrolment,” Mestha said.
However, so far, no government representative or minister has met them.
The Midday Meal Scheme was launched by the then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in 1995 in a bid to increase enrolment of children from economically weaker sections in schools.
Shamim Begum, 34, a cook in Kamalapur village in Kalaburgi district, about 630 km north of Bengaluru, said she works for over seven hours a day at a government school in her village.
“Most often, we are asked to do school chores apart from cooking, not giving us much time to find other sources of earning,” said Begum, a mother of four children.
Begum is the sole breadwinner for her family after her husband died a couple of years ago.
All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) Secretary N. Shivanna said the cooks are not even given the minimum wages that a labourer gets, making their lives harder.