As the number of cases of COVID-19 continue to mount in India, those on the front-lines of the battle carry on despite serious unresolved issues. While doctors have been demanding that the state provides them with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), ASHA workers and the Anganwadi workers have faced a backlash from people on the ground, with no social security from the state.
An accredited social health activist (ASHA) is a community health worker and there are over 9 lakh such workers in India while there are over 35 lakh Anganwadi workers in India. These workers form the crucial link between citizens and the healthcare system of the Indian state. They collect data on cases, speak to the families in the areas, distribute food and relief and check people across the country for symptoms.
Amid the pandemic, workers are risking their lives by moving out, often without the optimum protection needed. The workers have been raising the issue of the lack of protective gear or training needed to perform their duty effectively. They are also facing attacks as they go to areas where residents are resistant and see them with suspicion.
ASHA workers were targeted by locals residents of Bengaluru’s Sadiq layout for trying to carry out tests on people who had symptoms of COVID-19. ASHA workers and an Anganwadi worker who had been collecting information about the health of the people in the containment zone at Kuduchi town in Karnataka were also attacked by a mob of more than 15 persons.
“They manhandled me and told me that I should not inquire of anyone about the COVID-19 symptoms. They even shouted that they will die of COVID-19 and I should not be worried. They even snatched documents pertaining to surveillance work, mobile phones and other valuables,” said the ASHA worker who was attacked in Bengaluru, according to the Deccan Herald. A group of ASHA workers were also heckled and assaulted in Karnataka’s Belgaum district while another worker in the Takiya area of Bhauri Ganj in U.P. was verbally abused and manhandled by 5 people.
The workers are demanding police protection and social security from the state.
Speaking to NewsClick, A.R. Sindhu, General Secretary of the All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers said that workers are not refusing work and are “continuing to work without any equipment. We do not want them to act as spreading agents due to a lack of safety. Sindhu also mentioned that “anganwadis which have been providing mid-day meals across districts are now starving and are not getting ration”.
While state governments have claimed that they are providing cash transfers to the workers, many have raised alarms over the accessibility of cash transfers, since many workers operate from the remotest regions of the country.
The state also announced an insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh per person to front-line health workers including nurses, anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, private hospital staff and for other specified categories. However, this is not enough according to Sindhu who said that there is a “lack of clarity about the implementation of this scheme and we are not sure how many people will be able to avail it.”
The workers had also said that they do not receive any incentives and are demanding for additional ration to be provided for their families in this time of crisis. ASHA workers and ground-level Anganwadi workers, who are key to the healthcare system, have been fighting for their social security for many years. They have protested multiple times, saying that the government is leading an unprecedented attack on the social welfare of the people by aiming to privatise the essential Integrated Child Development Scheme services and by bringing in anti-worker measures such as the direct cash transfer scheme giving way to private players. The workers are demanding regular wages and pensions, and more importantly, social security.
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