UP ASHAs have had enough of empty election promises

Women protest the lack of security while they serve as the backbone of rural healthcare

Asha Workers

Tired of empty promises, Varanasi’s Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers questioned why the ground-level reality differed starkly with the claims of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Uttar Pradesh government.

As Assembly elections draw closer, BJP and Congress campaigns refocus their attention on rural vote banks. Leaders recently focused on communities like the healthcare workers that dedicatedly worked for rural health amidst a global pandemic.

In mid-August, Ch“Our wages, money for conducting surveys, everything is pending. Still we continue our work. Some ASHAs went to the government office recently and they were told the department does not have funds anymore. Others say there is an issue with transferring money,” she had told SabrangIndia, asking, “So how come we are the only ones not getting money?”

Pending wages have become a persistent problem for ASHAs, anganwadi workers, and mid-day meal cooks across the state this year. Both ASHAs and cooks started their individual mass mobilisations to highlight these grievances to the government. The only difference is that while the cooks received at least partial payment, ASHAs are yet to receive basic security.

This is what another ASHA leader Priya Gupta said about the ruling regime’s administrative performance while talking to Dr. Muniza Khan who heads the research and outreach team of SabrangIndia’s sister organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) in Uttar Pradesh.

While smartphones and tabs were promised to college youth, Gupta’s demand for physical protection during night duty is a long-forgotten woe of the women.

“What protection? We have no security be it from illnesses or physical harm. We only get our Rs. 2,000 when we complete all our work including surveys. Officials repeatedly tell us it’s our job but we want better wages,” said ASHA Mamta.

As per the National Rural Health Mission website, an ASHA cannot function without adequate institutional support. It directs self-help groups or women’s health committees, village Health & Sanitation Committee of the Gram Panchayat, ANMs and Anganwadi workers and ASHA trainers to assist these women.

Yet Mamta said that ASHAs receive no help from local authorities save for ANM and similar workers. Some ASHAs also suffered mistreatment during visits.

Some other ambitious statements about ASHAs on the website are:

“Every ASHA is expected to be a fountainhead of community participation in public health programmes in her village.

ASHA will be the first port of call for any health related demands of deprived sections of the population, especially women and children, who find it difficult to access health services.

ASHA will provide information to the community on determinants of health such as nutrition, basic sanitation & hygienic practices, healthy living and working conditions, information on existing health services and the need for timely utilisation of health & family welfare services.

She will counsel women on birth preparedness, importance of safe delivery, breast-feeding and complementary feeding, immunization, contraception and prevention of common infections including Reproductive Tract Infection/Sexually Transmitted Infections (RTIs/STIs) and care of the young child.”

Despite these elaborate responsibilities, ASHAs did not receive any medical benefits, said Mamta. She claimed the local administration had failed to give her proper vaccinations.

“The government should also think about us. What if we meet an accident on the way at night? Who will take care of our family? I am yet to see any of the positive effects of the ruling regime in my surroundings,” said Kevat, whose child recently fell ill.

Having worked as an ASHA for five years, she decried the government for ignoring their demands of proper wages and protective gear as though they were “making personal requests.” She argued that women in her field work much longer hours than men, because they answer calls of patients even at night.

During Covid-19, ASHAs also had the responsibility of delivering medical packets to at-home patients. For this, officials either gave them sanitisers or masks.

“Very rarely did we receive both,” said Kevat.

Having mobilised across the state to demand their dues, ASHAs have become a potential vote bank for the Opposition. Especially after some ASHAs said they were allegedly beaten by Shahjahanpur police, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra promised them Rs. 10,000 honorarium if the party is voted to power.

However, Varanasi’s women remain unimpressed by these claims.

“Every leader says this. We have already seen this happen. We have read her assurances but at the end of the day, no party ever does anything. They only make empty promises,” said Mamta.

On Tuesday, the women continue with their daily routine. Mamta stayed at home figuring out her future after the passing of her husband. Kevat ran to the chemist to get medicine for her family while Gupta visited the nearby vaccine camp to fulfil her role as an ASHA.


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