Mass detention of health workers in India; union to continue fight 

As many as 2,000 Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) were forcefully detained in the State of Andhra Pradesh on November 2. They were staging protests to demand the implementation of the National Health Mission guidelines

November 05, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
ASHA workers being detained in the State of Andhra Pradesh in India.

Despite the mass detention of its members in the State of Andhra Pradesh earlier this week, the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) Workers’ Union in India has stressed that it will continue its protests for the legitimate demands of the health workers. Andhra Pradesh ASHA Workers’ Union general secretary K Dana Lakshmi said the protests will intensify and culminate in a mass agitation on November 26 when unions across the country are staging a national strike. 

As many as 2,000 ASHA workers were forcefully detained by the Andhra Pradesh police on Monday, November 2 for staging protests to demand the implementation of the National Health Mission guidelines. Workers have complained about increased workload and rejected the recently announced assignments at village secretariats. They are also demanding retirement benefits, and insurance for workers who have died during COVID-19 duty.

Though most of the detained workers were later released by the police, “100 ASHAs were booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code for organizing the protests,” Dana Lakshmi said.

“The government has assigned one ASHA worker to each ward and village secretariat of population 2,500 to 8,000 in the State, as against the National Health Mission guidelines of allotting one ASHA worker for every 1,000 people,” said Raghavamma from ASHA Workers’ Union in Ongole district.

The health workers have alleged that staff at the Public Health Centres and the ANMs (Auxiliary Nurse Midwifery) at the village secretariats are assigning them duties beyond their job charts, thereby increasing the workload of ASHAs.

“While several ASHAs are assigned to conduct surveys using smartphones, officials are harassing the workers to get their own phones instead of providing those themselves,” said Pocchamma, a representative of the AHSA Workers’ Union.

Last year, the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party increased the salaries of ASHAs to INR 10,000 per month. However, the workers complained about delays in the payment of salaries and their ineligibility to access welfare schemes being implemented in the government.

Currently, around 42,000 ASHAs are working across the State of Andhra Pradesh. This year, ASHAs have held numerous protests across the State demanding basic rights, such as protective gear for COVID-19 duties, insurance for ASHAs, and retirement benefits. According to the workers’ union, at least 16 ASHA workers who were assisting in COVID-19-related duties have died in the State since March 15.

(With inputs from NewsClick)