ASHA Workers: PM Modi Lauds Healthcare Workers, Delhi Police Files FIR Against Them


ASHA Workers: PM Modi Lauds Healthcare Workers, Delhi Police Files FIR Against Them

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

In India, as in the rest of the world, frontline health workers are the backbone of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, in his multiple addresses to the nation throughout the pandemic, has saluted the frontline workers and hailed them as heroes. However, the ground reality in Delhi is much different, as the Delhi Police filed an FIR last week against a gathering of accredited social health activists (ASHA) for staging a protest outside Jantar Mantar earlier this month.

The ASHA workers have been deeply involved in battling the virus in Delhi, and indeed across the country in places where poorer populations face difficulty in accessing the public healthcare system.

There are over 5,000 ASHA workers in Delhi. Their duties involve midwifery, spreading awareness on family planning, and getting children vaccinated. Their regular income from this job is ₹3,000, with a ₹1,000 incentive for meeting targets in the above areas. During the pandemic however, these duties have multiplied to include conducting tracking surveys, ensuring delivery of medicines and food to quarantined patients, and increasing awareness about preventing Covid-19 at the ground level.

Unfortunately, the ASHA workers have claimed that they have not been adequately supplied with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or sanitisers in the execution of their responsibilities, and their incentives have also been suspended due to the pandemic.

Since last month, ASHA workers in Delhi have been on strike, demanding better pay to the tune of ₹10,000 a month and better access to PPE equipment. In an Indian Express report, Usha Thakur, general secretary of the Delhi Asha Workers’ Association (DAWA) said she met Delhi Health Minister Satyender Jain on July 27, but their requests have not yet been met. “We asked that we either be paid ₹10,000, or wages by the day. We also asked for the rules to be unified and clarified regarding incentives but there has been no follow-up regarding the matter,” Thakur said.

Now, Thakur says that over 150 ASHA workers in Delhi have tested positive for Covid-19. And their protest for better protection and support from the government has led to an FIR being filed against the protestors. While Indian citizens are all too happy to clap or bang utensils in their balconies for health workers, it’s a shame that the government doesn’t seem to share the same enthusiasm.