New Delhi: On Friday, the streets of Bengaluru became a sea of pink with tens of thousands of Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) from across Karnataka marching to raise their demands. The workers are seeking immediate dispersal of unpaid wages and fixed honorarium as they marched from the City Railway Station to Freedom Park.
About 35,000 ASHA workers under the banner of Karnataka State Samyukta ASHA Workers’ Association, affiliated to All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), also staged a dharna at the Freedom Park, raising their demand of fixed monthly honorarium of Rs 12,000 and delinking of the Reproductive Child Health (RCH) portal from ASHA Soft, the Centre’s online payment system for ASHAs.
D Nagalakshmi, secretary of the Karnataka State Samyukta ASHA Workers’ Association, said: “We will stage a two-day ‘day and night’ strike in Bengaluru and continue the strike indefinitely in our districts till our demands are met.”
Though the Benguluru chapter of protest is over, ASHA workers are boycotting the work indefinitely, said Apoorva CM, who is associated with the ASHA Workers’ Association.
Of the 42,000 ASHAs across the state, more than 30,000 are part of the protest, Apoorva added.
Read more: Karnataka: Marching Anganwadi Workers Receive Written Assurance, Defer Protest
In Karnataka, ASHAs are paid a fixed sum of Rs 6,000/month, in which Rs 4,000 is being contributed by the state government and remaining Rs 2,000 comes from National Health Mission, a Central flagship scheme. Along with this, the ASHAs are also entitled for incentives between Rs 3,500 and Rs 5,000 per month.
However, since the past 15 months, thousands of ASHAs in the state have not been paid their dues.
The government must give us an increase in payment and pay us all our dues so we can live in peace," said Srilatha, one of the protesters from Ballari.
ASHA workers, who come under the category of scheme workers, are an interface between the community and the public health system. These trained health activists across the country are one of the key components of the National Rural Health mission (NRHM), which aims to provide accessible, affordable and quality healthcare to the rural population, especially the vulnerable groups.
As per the NHM guidelines, the roles and responsibilities of ASHAs include taking steps to create awareness and provide information to the community on determinants of health, such as nutrition, basic sanitation and hygienic practices, healthy living and working conditions, information on existing health services and the need for timely utilization of health & family welfare services. They also counsel women on birth preparedness, importance of safe delivery, breastfeeding, immunisation, contraception among other things.
Though the ASHAs are an inevitable part of the NRHM to achieve health targets, lakhs of them are being meagre wages and incentives. Along with increment in honorarium, the ASHAs have also been demanding regularisation of their jobs for a long. After all, if India has improved its maternal and infant mortality rates, it needs to thank these ASHA foot-soldiers, who have played a big role.
Read More: Dalits, Tribals, Farmers Demonstrate, Demand Land Pattas in Krishnagiri