SRINAGAR: Maimoona (name changed) is the first to reach the school to open the lock and last to leave it in the evening after doing the cleaning work. As soon as the school work starts she heads for the market, fetches vegetables for the midday meals of the children that she cooks at her home.
“We are mid-day meal cooks but actually we are the care- takers of the school,” Maimoona says.
Maimoona has six daughters and a son. Four of her children study in the same school where she works on a paltry salary for past eight months without any increment.
“I don’t compromise with my work even if my salary is low or pending because children of this school are like my own children. The government exploits benign conduct of female workers and never fulfills their demands,” she said.
Maimoona has been engaged under National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, a centrally sponsored scheme aimed at increasing enrollment and improving nutritional levels among children under the age group of six to fourteen years studying in classes I to VIII.
In order to support the programme and to generate employment, women from around the areas are hired to cook for school children. The cost for cooking food for a primary school child is Rs 3.37 per day while it is Rs 5.30 for middle school child.
The cook-cum-helper, hired under the scheme works on the basis of 10 months contract and Rs 1000 is paid per month. However, in some of the states the honorarium to cook-cum-helpers is more.
The cooks say that their honorarium is never released on time. Apart from cooking meals, they clean the school, take children to washrooms and do other things.
Zamrooda, a widow who has been engaged in a city school said that she is working ona paltry sum only because she is serving schoolchildren.
Zamrooda works in school during the day and spins yarn at home to support her family. However, she finds it difficult to meet the two ends.
According to Mid-day Meal (MDM) Scheme, cooks should get concrete kitchen sheds to cook but Government’s failure of providing them concrete place has added to their problems. Some manage to cook in the class while others cook at their homes.
Mohammad Farooq, headmaster of the Middle School said, “Cooks come and complaint about their low salary. We favor their demand but it is upto the higher authorities to look into it.”