ASHAs Fight Off Poor Pay, Demand Permanent Jobs

ASHAs say the payments are meager and exploitative.

Hardoi, Uttar Pradesh: With a long list of activities, including those related to TB treatment and drug de-addiction, ASHAs (Accredited social health activists) are at the core of the government’s strategy to end maternal and child deaths in India. They pay home visits and bring pregnant women to health facilities in the villages of India and make them enter the health system.

ASHAs, however, say the payments are meager and exploitative. An ASHA earns in the range of Rs 2000 a month. However, instead of a fixed salary, the Centre pays them for individual tasks.

Sunita, an ASHA worker from Uttar Pradesh’s Hardoi district said, “We do so much for society. We work through the day in different kinds of weather conditions. We are on our feet, running from one place to the other. Will we ever get permanent posts?”

ASHAs are not entitled to statutory benefits like Provident Fund, ESI and accident insurance.

Talking about the issue, Biraj Patnaik, Principal Adviser to SC Commissioners in the Right to Food Case, said, “ASHAs are the lowest part of a hierarchy that is inherently corrupt, oppressive and patriarchal. They neither have the freedom and liberty to carry out their duties nor are they funded. When it comes to giving them work, the government gives them all sorts of additional work. But when it comes to remunerating them, the government goes right up to the Supreme Court to argue as to why they cannot be given regular wages, saying they are volunteers or part time workers.”

Some states have, however, formulated their own policies to support ASHAs. Sikkim pays a fixed amount of Rs 3,000 above the incentives. West Bengal and Kerala have a similar policy.

Since last few months, ASHAs are holding a series of protests and strikes demanding permanency, a fixed salary and inclusion in the Pay Commission.