Rampurhat, Oct. 8: Villagers in Birbhum today locked up workers of four ICDS centres for five hours accusing them of forcing children to carry water and collect firewood.
“Amar paanch bochchorer meye take die jol tolai. Ununey kath gonjay. Eta kemon niyom (my five-year-old daughter is made to carry water. She is also forced to stuff firewood in the oven. What kind of rule is this),” said Linku Sheikh, one of the 500 villagers protesting the “child labour”.
“This amounts to child-labour. This is a government-run centre and we will not allow our children to be forced to work like this,” said Akbar Ali, a resident of Dadpur.
Each ICDS centre, which operates from 7am to 11am, has a worker and a helper. The workers impart basic education and provide food to children, make mothers aware about nutrition, provide vaccination such as polio drops and attend to would-be mothers in villages. The helpers are supposed to do the cooking.
The ICDS workers, who were locked up in their centres from 8am to 1pm, denied the allegations.
“We don’t ask children to do our work. These allegations are baseless,” said Fazila Khatoon, sahayika of one of the centres.
A student, however, refuted the worker’s claim. “Ami bolechilam hat pure jabey, tao didimoni amake ununey kath dite bolto (I said my hand would burn. But I was asked to stuff firewood in the oven),” the girl said.
Rampurhat SDO Ratneswar Roy said he was unaware of such allegations. “I was only informed about some agitation. Now, I will start a probe,” he said.
The villagers also accused the workers of not providing eggs to the children for the past two weeks.
The ICDS workers cited insufficient funds.
“The government gives only Rs 3.80 for an egg, which now costs about Rs 4.50. So, we have stopped eggs in meals. When the price will fall or the grant will be increased, we will start giving eggs,” a worker said.
Sourav Kole, the child development project officer, assured he would try to manage the additional cost from other funds.