Women dressed in pink have gone from door to door for several months, motivating people to get their vaccines to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in some of the nation’s remotest corners, crowded urban slums, and hinterlands, often risking their own safety.
They make around $40 per month for their trouble, a wage that is barely enough to meet their ends. Several frontline healthcare workers throughout the nation- ‘pivotal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal of inoculating the nation’s entire population and reviving the $2.6 trillion economies’- are about to snap soon.
Known as Accredited Social Health Activists, or “Asha” which is the Hindi word for hope, these women are forming a team with trade unions with muscle to fight against what they state as “chronic official apathy toward their complaints about poor pay and dismal working conditions.”
9 Asha workers Bloomberg News interviewed throughout India stated that “the authorities who earlier assured them better wages, personal protective equipment, and safe working conditions haven’t kept those promises despite a two-day stoppage last year. Even worse, some say they haven’t been paid for months.”
The All India Trade Union Congress is deciding to protest in New Delhi while the country’s parliament is in session through December 23, stated by Amarjeet Kaur, General Secretary. “We are talking to other trade unions and are planning a national strike in December for all scheme workers,” stated by A.R. Sindhu who is the national secretary for the Communist-linked Centre of Indian Trade Unions.
The threat of yet another walkout by the workers comes at a crucial time when the nation is struggling with its vaccination progress. Only approx. 32% of the nation’s 1.4 billion individuals had got two shots, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker Wednesday, while Modi has a goal of getting all the adults completely vaccinated by the end of this year. A strike could possibly even deal a blow as the new omicron strain of the coronavirus has a new risk to recovery efforts throughout the world.
Link to communities
Asha workers are critical to Modi’s door-to-door Covid-19 vaccination campaign that was launched in November. They have detailed findings of their neighborhoods, and they are likely to motivate residents to get their doses. They act as a link between health authorities and local communities.
Set up in 2005 as a stopgap framework to provide aid to more than 55 healthcare services to people, specifically women and children, in far-flung parts, this program has been significant in getting rid of polio from the developing nation. Now the workers have the burden of coronavirus, all for an activity-based allowance, which averages about Rs 3,000 per month for several of them. If lucky, many can earn double that amount.
But they seek to the government to set minimum wages for them, for instance farm hands or cleaners, some of whom can make almost as much as $260 per month.
“Time has come to give them minimum wages because now they have become crucial to the system,” stated by T. Sundararaman who is a New Delhi-based global coordinator for the People’s Health Movement. “When they were created we were talking about 12 hours a week. Now the whole burden of primary care has shifted on them and they are working more than the regular staff.”
The concerns that are being raised by the workers of the Asha are not new. Along with the issue of allowances, 2 years into the pandemic, most of them still work without gloves, sanitizers, and masks.
Women dressed in pink
Irritated at being ignored, the women dressed in pink are escalating their stir, asking minimum and wages on time and even better facilities of working. They joined other unions that are working in September for a one-day strike, and the protests have gathered power since.
Asha workers in Kolhapur, a town which is the south of Mumbai on 10th November stopped to work on vaccines over no payment. In the northern state of Punjab, where local elections will take place early in the coming year, they have stayed away from all works except for emergency care like childbirth since 25th November, according to Balbir Kaur who is the chief of the union in the district of Ludhiana.
“Since the assembly polls are nearing and they are seeking votes, may be they will now listen to us now, stated by Kaur, further adding that she had not been paid for several months. A spokesperson for the state government chose not to respond to an email asking for any comment.
Vivekanand Jha who is the executive director for India at the George Institute for Global Health, stated that ignoring the concerns of the workers may undermine the fight against Covid-19.
“People who are marginalized would suffer,” Jha stated.
Violence and beaten up
35 years old Poonam Pandey stated that when she and her co-workers had gathered in Shahjahanpur which is a small district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, to show a letter of demands to Yogi Adityanath who is the Chief Minister at a political rally, police did beat them up. A spokesperson for the state government did not reply or comment to a text message seeking for a comment. The spokesperson for the federal Health Ministry even did not choose to return a call and comment asking for their response.
“We were called corona warriors and we did everything the government asked us to,” Pandey stated on the phone, while remembering the horror she faced. “Now we are being beaten up for asking our dues. I demand justice, where will I get it? They are the government; they can do anything. What can we do?” –Bloomberg