Newsletter Sep 1997

After a prolonged struggle, in May 1997, the Sathins of the Women’s Development Programme [WDP] in Rajasthan achieved a significant victory when the Rajasthan Government announced an increase in the honorarium of the Sathins from Rs 250 per month to Rs 350 per month. The Sathins have been demanding minimum wages, security of service and other benefits at par with the workers in all community service programmes. Though the increase is far from satisfactory, in view of the fact that the government has been threatening to either wind up the whole programme or make major changes in its structure, this is some consolation.

But that the struggle is far from over is evident from the recent judgement of the Divisional Bench of the Jaipur High Court in which the Court has refused to accept that the definition of ‘worker’ under the Industrial Disputes Act is applicable to the Sathins. The crux of the Sathin’s struggle has been the treatment of their work in the WDP as ‘voluntary’ and thus not deserving minimum wages, security of service or other workers' benefits.

The services of five Sathins from Kekri (Ajmer District) had been terminated after they attended the Fourth National Conference of Women’s Movements in Calicut in December 1990. Subsequently, the Sathins had filed a writ petition in the High Court asking for reinstatement, as their services had been terminated in an arbitrary manner without being given any reason.

In March 1992, the Single Bench gave an order for reinstatement on grounds of violation of the principles of natural justice. Technical questions related to the violation of Constitutional rights or the application of the Industrial Disputes Act were not gone into. The Department of Women and Child Development, Govern­ment of Rajasthan filed a special appeal petition in the High Court challenging the order.

It is in response to this petition that on 29th May 1997, the Divisional Bench issued its judgement in which the project docu­ment of the WDP has been extensively quoted. It is said that, “When the nature of the appointment is such that it is only to facilitate a development programme that a woman from amongst the rural women who may not even be literate, is to be appointed as a motivator or a link between the project organisers and the target group of women, it cannot be said that such an appointment would confer any right to be heard before termination of appointment.”

This verdict is a major challenge to the struggle of the Sathins, who are determined to continue their struggle for recognition of their work and to demand the status of ‘workers’ rather than ‘volunteers’. The Sathins have decided to take the case up to the Supreme Court.