Under the NRHM (National Rural Health Mission) which was launched in 2005, the government of India recruited ASHA workers to connect the marginalised communities to health care.
Under the rural health mission approx 9, 00,000 ASHA workers across India acts as a bridge between the government and the communities in rural India by playing pivotal roles of health care facilitators, health activists and service providers. They often have to put their lives at risk while doing the job.
Who are ASHA’S?
The National Health Mission describes Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) as a trained female community health activist Accredited Social Health Activist. They serve as a link between their community and the public health system. As community health activists, ASHAs provide prevention education on a range of health issues, including reproductive and sexual health, and healthy lifestyles to prevent diabetes and other Non Communicable Diseases.
ASHA has been at the forefront in the fight against coronavirus with little or no protective gear. They have been heavily exploited and left with delays in payments, lower compensation and with no recognition. They are being paid as little as 32 rupees a day.
The Pandemic has drastically increased the workload of ASHA workers. Since the announcement of the first lockdown they have been asked to do door-to-door surveys and contact tracing, raise awareness, convince people to get tested, check on Covid positive patients, distribute essential medicines and ration, apart from carrying out other responsibilities.
Staged Hundreds of Protests over a Decade
Recently in June at the middle pandemic, ASHA’s of 41 districts gathered in Bhopal, Madhya Prdesh after 21 days of state wide strike demanding fair wage and facilities where several workers were detained as well, video volunteers reports
Laxmi Kaurav, an ASHA supervisor who also runs a trade union of ASHA’s in Madhya Pradesh says in the panel discussion facilitated by Video Volunteers that, During the three week long strike, MP government invited to discuss the demands in which a raise up to 1o thousands for ASHA workers and 15 thousands for ASHA supervisors was proposed by the authority, however it has been not implemented yet. It was after the discussion ASHA sahyogi were given the status of ASHA supervisors, she added.
This was power of protests and union that we were at least invited to talk she further added.
Over the decade ASHA workers have staged hundreds of protests throughout the country for dignity and equality.
Halima Ejaz, an ASHA supervisor from Jharkand says, Wages are paid late, our wages are often gets delayed by 6 or more months. In fact in some cases it’s pending for almost a year and this is the reality. Other than the wages incentives payments are also pending for five years, she added.
Desh ki ASHA Campaign for recognition and dignity
Video volunteer is a network community correspondent who films videos on entitlements and human rights violations to change and uplift the livelihood status of their communities. More than 50 per cent of the correspondents are women who come from a diverse background and out of them several are ASHA workers who has started a campaign #DeshKiASHA to amplify their urgent concerns which have been overlooked by the parliamentarians and the policymakers since long.
Several demands of ASHA workers including a fair wage rate have been ignored for a long time but in pandemic despite the urgency of safety kits and fair compensation they are being forced into a death sentence.
ASHA workers since the pandemic have protested dozens of times demanding safety kits, salaries and insurances. They have also gone on strike for forced into inhumane working hours and technical tasks with which they are not equipped with.
In the recent campaign Desh Ki ASHA, they have written a letter addressed to the Primeminister and Union Minister for Health & Family Welfare Government of India stressing out the urgency of their situation. The letter says, “We are currently receiving very low performance-based incentives and rewards. Amounts vary from state to state and we earn about Rs.3000 or less a month for tasks that take between 4 to 7 hours a day. For Covid prevention, tracing and vaccination work we are paid Rs.1000 a month. Unlike what you may be informed, this work takes an average of 5 hours every day. The rates are an affront to standards of minimum wages and are nothing short of exploitation.”
“In many states, even these ‘meagre incentives’ and ‘honorariums’ are yet to be paid. In the case of non-attendance due to Covid infection or other diseases, our payment is deducted. Not only that, our service is automatically considered terminated if the absence is more than 3 months. You can imagine what a pregnant ASHA worker must go through,” they write in the letter.
In the open letter ASHA workers remained Primeminister about the promise of insurances, they write, “We were assured insurance under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package but most of us have not gotten any benefits or enrolled. This is a serious threat to our safety. We are doing utmost risky work during this pandemic and we are not only risking ourselves but also the health and life of our family members.”
In the letter ASHA workers have also put forward their 11 urgent demands which include a fixed salary of a minimum of Rs.18,000 for ASHA Workers and Rs.24,000 for ASHA Supervisors per month, every work assignment should come as officially and in written and verbally distribution of works should immediately stop, adequate training required protection kits along with tools like thermal guns, oximeters, facial shields, sanitisers and gloves.
They have also mentioned the legitimate demands of leaves under the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 and the benefit of all government holidays and weekly holidays. And most importantly, recognition of their work by declaring ASHA’S as a government employee.
Tweet storm to Reach Masses
On September 23, 2021, Video Volunteers organized a tweetstorm led by ASHA workers from across India to amplify their long due demands. Netizens quickly responded to the tweetstorm and participated to raise urgent concerns of frontline health workers.
ASHA worker and VV’s Ground Report producer Rohini Pawar tweets,
Vimlendu Jha tweets “High time government revalues our Asha workers and acknowledges their contribution to the nation.
Another user tweets, “Please give them PPE as their lives are at constant risk.
CJP too participated in the tweetstorm and tweeted about the plight of ASHA’s, #ASHAWorkers are getting less than Rs 3000 per month for working up to 7hrs a day, out on the fields. This is an example of blatant disregard for minimum wage standards!
Panel Discussion to Ensure Dignity Protection and Fair Remuneration of ASHA’s
A panel discussion on 2nd October was facilitated by Video Volunteers in which several ASHA’s and prominent Rights activists were invited to pave a way ahead for the ASHA movement. It was attended by Halima Ejaz, ASHA supervisor from Jharkhand, Moon Bora, Community mobiliser from Assam, Laxmi Kaurav, ASHA supervisor from Madhya Pradesh and Laxmi Chetri of Bodolnad Territorial region. Teesta Seetalvad of Citizens For Justice Peace, Abhay Shukla of Jan Arogya Abhiyan, Stalin K of Video Volunteers were also present. Rohini Pawar, ASHA supervisor from Maharashtra hosted the online event.
Here is what you can do
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