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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 20, New Delhi, May 1, 2021

A Circle of Fire: A study on rural Anganwadi workers during the Covid-19 pandemic | Sengupta & Pal

Saturday 1 May 2021

by Atanu Sengupta and Asish Kumar Pal *

“Kintu ebaro akasmat Anander nrityo theme gelo. Aguner aro nikote se thomke daralo. Agun taar matha chariye aro uchute utheche, Anandokeo mone hochhe aguner shikha.

Herombo nischal hoye takiyeroilo. Kichukorar nei. Anando onek age mara geche. Shuduchitayothbarshokti tukui tarbojai chilo.” —Last stanza of Diba-Ratrir Kabya by Manik Bandhopadhyay (1935)

("But Ananda’s dance stopped. She stepped closer to the fire. Fire has risen over her head. She is herself appearing to be the flame.

Herombo stared motionless. Nothing more can be done. Ananda had died long ago. Left was only the power to fall on the fire.” —Poetry of Day and Night -Translation by authors)


Like the unfortunate heroine of Manik Bandhopadhyay, the ICDS workers were engulfed in a circle of fire. Their conditions were already pitiable. Pandemic brought the final onslaught. The present study was carried out on the socio-economic and demographic profiles of the 100 Anganwadi workers during pandemic. The study was carried out in ICDS centers of Arambagh Block of Hooghly district of West Bengal. Our community health workers who are better known as Anganwadi workers, have been playing a critical role in fighting the pandemic at the grassroot level, helping people in different states cope with the deadly virus and its fallout. The nationwide lockdown has thrown unprecedented challenges to children under five, school-going children, pregnant and lactating women, who are all particularly vulnerable to malnutrition. With the closure of primary schools and Anganwadi centers, millions of children in rural India are unable to access to their guaranteed mid-day meals, potentially worsening an already existing “severe” malnutrition problem in India. It was the selfless effort of the Anganwadi workers that the country did not fall into a deluge. This study reflects that despite working selflessly for the safety of the nation, often risking infections, these Anganwadi workers are forced to survive with meager pay, without any social and occupational safety nets.

Keywords: ICDS, Anganwadi worker, Anganwadi Centres, Challenges, Covid, Pandemic


Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) today represents one of the world’s largest most unique programmes of Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD). The program aims a multi-sectoral approach to child development, incorporating health, early education and nutrition interventions. The main objective of this program is to cater to the needs of the development of children in the age group of 0-6 years. ICDS services are provided through a vast network of ICDS centres, it is known as “Anganwadi”. The Anganwadi workers and Anganwadi Helpers are the grass root level functionaries responsible for delivery of services.

However, the global pandemic has left us all feeling helpless and anxious about our future. But at a time when most of us are worried about our own well-being, there are others who have set aside their own fears and concerns to help those who are the most vulnerable. Our community health workers, better known as Anganwadi workers [AWWs], have been playing a critical role in fighting the pandemic at the grass-root level, helping people in different states cope with the deadly virus and its fallout. These high-risk new responsibilities are over and above their already heavy workload of delivering nutrition to women and children and other health outreach services such as mass-immunization, and forging a vital link between the government and the community.

The nationwide lockdown has thrown unprecedented challenges to children under five, school-going children, pregnant and lactating women, who are all particularly vulnerable to malnutrition. With the closure of primary schools and Anganwadi centers, millions of children in rural India are unable to access their guaranteed mid-day meals, potentially worsening an already existing “severe” malnutrition problem in India.

Their only ark of Noah was these workers. But the workers were not at all prepared for this job. Many of them are not even properly equipped to work in the field. They are not counseled or trained properly for their new duties and are expected to work without masks, sanitizers, and other must-haves in a Covid-struck world, despite their close contact with possibly infected people. When the lockdown in the initial days of April and May this year curtailed the movement of millions of people across the nation, many such workers were stranded due to lack of transportation facilities. But they were still expected to do their jobs despite the limited transport facilities.

The ground-level reality also reveals that the lockdown broke the supply chain at several places, even as the demand for food and other essentials grew exponentially across villages. This demand soared further with the surge of migrant-workers returning from cities, who expected the community health-workers to deliver food to them as well. Many of them were not ration cardholders, and the supplies that reached the community workers were limited, leaving the community workers in a major dilemma.

This disruption in supplies also hit essential commodities and services, which in turn impacted healthcare systems. Coupled with the economic slowdown, this obviously had a huge impact on nutrition rates. Even though the state governments are continuously striving to ensure the delivery of take-home ration (THR) under the Integrated Child Development Services [ICDS] programme, it is nowhere near enough. It is our duty to empower our frontline heath workers, who serve as the backbone of the country’s fight against and now COVID-19.

The present study was conducted in rural area of Arambagh block of Hooghly district during the last phase of lockdown, 2020. It followed the rapid survey method. The survey had 100 anganwadi workers as respondents, ten each from 20 ICDS centres. A Multistage sampling technique was adopted for sample selection. Samples were randomly selected for this purpose.

A self-devised interview schedule and structured questionnaire was used as a tool for data collection with various questions framed on the awareness among anganwadi workers regarding the service of ICDS. The major content of the interview schedule were socio-economic and demographic profiles of AWWs, awareness about various ICDS services (immunization, pre-school education, nutrition and health education, referral service, supplementary nutrition, growth monitoring) and inconveniences faced by AWW while implementing ICDS programmes and other functions at the time of lockdown. Questions were also framed on the importance of maintenance and counseling and proper training for fighting against Covid-19 as a frontline worker.

Data were collected personally by making visits to Anganwadi centers of nearest gram panchayats of Arambagh block in Hooghly. The data which was rapidly obtained were compiled and tabulated.

Socio-demographic characteristics of Anganwadi workers:

In Table 1 below, we record our basic sampling features. They might be grouped as follows.

Age of Respondents:

The present study shows that 48 % of Anganwadi workers were in the age group of 25-35 years, 34 % of workers were in the age group of 36-45 years and 18 percent were 46 years and above. Table 1 reveals that the majority of AWWs belong to the age group of 30-40 years, which is a very suitable age for effective functioning of the Anganwadi workers at the Anganwadi centers. It is generally considered that the age of Anganwadi worker is important for the effective functioning of the Anganwadi centers; hence, age was included as one of the parameters in the present study.

Marital Status of Respondents:

The marital status of the AWWs may have an influence on effectiveness of the ICDS programme in rural society. The AWWs is supposed to look after the health of children and nutrition of the children. The experiences of married women, especially those having children may positively affect awareness about the needs of children (Kular 2015). Hence, marital status of the AWWs was included as a variable in the study. While distributing the respondents by marital status it was found that about 94 percent of the workers were married and 06 percent of the workers were widowed. An Anganwadi worker is supposed to look after the health and nutrition of the children.

Caste of Respondents:

It was found that the majority (47%) of Anganwadi workers belonged to General Caste background. The rest of the workers were from OBC (29%), SC (17%) and (07%) communities.

Education of Respondents:

In the present study, 100 Anganwadi workers were interviewed and it is evident from Table 1 that 46% were educated up to graduation level. 16% of the Anganwadi workers had a post-graduate degree, 23% of the AWWs had higher secondary education and only 15% of AWWs were educated up to matriculation. It can be concluded that more than half, 70% AWWs had good academic level that is, graduation or post-graduation.

Working Experience of Respondents:

The number of years of experience as AWWs is considered as job experience here. Job experience can contribute to work efficiency and improvement of skills. Based on the length of service, AWWs were divided into four group viz., less than 5 years, 10-15 years and above 15 years. A view of Table 1 pertaining to work experience indicates that about 09% of AWWs had experience service below 5 years, 62% of AWWs had experience of 5-10 years, and some 16% had service experience above 15 years and merely 13% of the AWWs had experience between 10-15 years. A very less number of respondents that is, two percent had more than 30 years of work experience in their career. Thus it is clear that in general most of these workers are not well experienced.

Training and Refresher Training:

Training for the job as AWW generally includes equipping the trainees with the necessary skill to perform their work effectively. As far as the training status of the Anganwadi workers was concerned, it was found that 50% of anganwadi workers did not receive any training, 21% of the AWWs received in-service training and only 17 % of them attended job and refresher training. Merely 11% received special training. It was shocking to find from the study that about 50% of AWWs did not receive any refresher training periodically. The finding of Kular (2014) also suggested that refresher training is very important after one and half years, in order to update their knowledge and skill.

Job Satisfaction of Anganwadi Workers:

The present study shows that only 9% of the AWWs were not satisfied with their job, about 21% had high job satisfaction; 40 % AWWs had medium job satisfaction, and the rest 30 % AWWs had low job satisfaction. Thus the data of the study indicate that only a small percentage of the AWWs were found to be having sufficient satisfaction from their job. Maybe the low salary mismatch with the high educational level that most of the AWWs have. As Amartya Sen (1975) argued job satisfaction is an important criterion of fruitful employment. This is missing for the AWWs.

Table1: Socio-personal profile of the Anganwadi workers

Variable Category Frequency
Age Groups 25-35 Years 48
36-45 Years 34
46+ Years 18
Marital Status Widow 06
Married 94
Caste General 47
OBC 29
SC 17
ST 07
Educational Status Matriculation 15
Higher Secondary 23
Graduation 46
Post Graduation 16
Work Experience <5 Years 09
5-10 Years 62
10-15 Years 13
>15 Years 16
Training Status In service 21
Job and refresher training 17
Special training 11
No training 51
Job Satisfaction Low 31
Medium 40
High 21
No satisfaction 09

Problems Faced by Anganwadi Workers in normal days:

As per the Government guideline the minimum qualification for AWWs is 10th pass, but she is expected to perform all these job responsibilities such as Community participation, co-ordination with the superiors, beneficiaries, and helper are important parts of her daily work. Results suggest that 51% AWWs complained of inadequate salary while 42% complained of lack of logistic supply related problem (Table 2). About half that is, 48% of the AWWs complained that they have infrastructure related problem like inadequate space for displaying non-formal preschool education (NF-PSE) posters or other posters related to nutrition and health education and space is not avail- able for conducting fun activities like outdoor activities. It was found that 38% workers complained they were overworked and 73% complained regarding excessive record maintenance.

Table 2: Problem faced by Anganwadi workers in normal times

Type of problem No of AWWs with the problem
In adequate salary 51
Infrastructure related 48
Logistic supply related 42
Work overload 38
Excessive record maintenance 73

In the next table (Table 3), we document their broad functions. Normally they work in fields like informal education to pre-primary children, health checkups, assessment of supplementary nutrition of pregnant women, growth monitoring of preschool children. Awareness of immunization of newborn babies through several vaccination programs, and awareness regarding the provision of referral services in high-risk pregnancies etc. The different functions of the AWWs are distributed in table 3:

Table 3: Functionaries about Awareness as well as Assessment of AWWs in normal time

Awarness regarding health check-up and referral services No of AWWs
Supplementary Nutrition 48
Informal education 88
Growth Monitoring 82
Immunisation 96
Health Check-up 75
Referral Services 93

Besides, AWWs have acted some other duties in lockdown situation due to covid pandemic by order of the Government. They have delivered nutritious food, mid- day-meal to the households. They have also supplied cooking food to the houses of migrant workers even distributed ration home to home. It is astonished that they have fought as a frontline worker with uncertainty and risky life for fear to infection of covid. With cooked meals programs suspended in the wake of the pandemic, India’s Anganwadi workers were playing the additional role of educating the people as well as contact tracers of those infected. Since pregnant women, lactating mothers and young children are most susceptible, the workers are trying to distribute food rations to them first.

Freshly introduced mandates of community workers include keeping a track of people’s travel history, counseling communities on handwashing, social distancing, mask-wearing, and, whenever needed, even helping with community surveillance, especially of migrant workers.

From table 4: we observe that in the epidemic of Covid crisis most of the Indian Rural AWWs have performed these functionaries very well. 85% respondents delivered mid-day-meal to the door of households in our study area. 79% of them supplied home delivery of foods. 83% AWWs supplied cooked food to the migrant workers. 74% of the surveyed AWWs reported they have to supply ration to the rural households.

Table 4: Other Functionaries during lockdown period due to Covid pandemic situation

Several other functions No of AWWs
Mid-day meal Delivery to door step 85
Home delivery of nutritious food 79
Serving cooked food for migrant workers 83
Delivery of home take

Our respondent AWWs have faced some challenges during the lockdown period when they performed their duties. 93% have informed that they have received delayed and inadequate incentives. 87% has agreed to an overburden of work by multiple departments. 91% has faced poor transport facility infield area at the time of duty. 85% of them have conflicted between DWCD and the health department. They (84%) have reported regarding non-cooperation from the hospital staff. About 73% of them are afraid of infection of coronavirus.

Table 5: Challenges faced by ICDS workers during lockdown for Covid-19

Challenges No of AWWs
Delayed and inadequate incentives 93
Overburden of work by multiple departments 87
Poor transport facility in field area 91
Conflict between DWCD and health department 85
Noncooperative hospital staff 84
Fear of infection 73

In the next table (Table 6) we survey the equipment received by the sampled AWWS to face the pandemic. Most of them have felt a lack of proper equipment. Above 10 % of them have felt the problem of adequate masks and sanitizers. Only 54% have obtained other protective gear. Only 22% of our respondents have reported that they have been trained and counseled to fight against new duty.

Table 6: Equipment or training received to face the pandemic

Equipment received to
face the pandemic
No of AWWs
Mask 87
Sanitizers 81
Others Protective gear 54
Counseling or training
about new duty


The new pandemic Covid-19 engulfed the entire world with high and low-intensity differing country-wise. India has been severely affected reached 2nd most cases in the world. Despite working selflessly for the safety of the nation, often risking infections, these Anganwadi workers are forced to survive with meager pay, without any social and occupational safety nets. This must change immediately. One of the most crucial roles played by the Anganwadi workers is meeting the increasing demand for essential nutrition services at a lower cost despite the risk of the growing pandemic, and this needs recognition and commensurate incentives. It is imperative to ensure that these workers receive adequate nutrition-related training, and are appropriately equipped to provide quality nutrition and other care they are expected to deliver to our population. It is our duty to empower our frontline health workers, who serve as the backbone of the country’s fight against COVID-19.

At last, we have to say that the Indian state must recognize and appreciate the contribution of these frontline workers. They have played a very important role in delivering the basic services from macro to micro-level even during the nationwide lockdown and pandemic. The demands made by these workers need to be tackled on an urgent basis. The state cannot stare like Herombo and see his beloved Ananda dance and fall in the fire.


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(Authors: Prof. Atanu Sengupta, Professor, Economics Department, Burdwan University,
West Bengal, India e-mail:sengupta_atanu[at]; Dr.Asish Kumar Pal, Assistant Professor, Economics Department, Tarakeswar Degree College, Tarakeswar, Hooghly, West Bengal, India e-mail:[at]

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