ASHA workers in India’s Bihar demand fair pay, pensions

ASHAs are trained female health workers who perform a range of tasks and act as key intermediaries between the village community and the public health system

August 11, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
ASHA health workers India

On Thursday, August 3, as many as 90,000 Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) staged a protest in the capital of India’s Bihar State, Patna, demanding that the State government led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar fulfill their nine demands. Thousands gathered at the Gardanibagh in Patna and held a sit-in near the Bihar State Assembly premises. The workers have threatened to intensify their mobilization in the coming days if the authorities fail to address their demands.  

Thursday’s protest was organized by the Sanyukt Sangharsh Manch, a joint platform of various unions and associations. ASHAs have been demanding a regular monthly wage of INR 10,000 (USD 120) instead of the current ‘reward’ of INR 1,000 (USD 12) a month, as well as pensions. 

“We do not want a reward of INR 1,000 (USD 12) per month, we are here to fight for a monthly honorarium of INR 10,000 (USD 120) and pension after retirement,” Kamla Devi, a protesting ASHA worker, told NewsClick

ASHAs are trained female health workers who perform a range of tasks from community health planning to referral and accompaniment services for reproductive and child health, dissemination of information on issues which impact health like sanitation and nutrition, preventive care and treatment, and prenatal and postnatal care in terms of immunization and counseling. These health activists, first introduced under the National Rural Health Mission, are selected from within the village community and act as key intermediaries between them and the public health system. 

ASHAs have staged repeated protests against the discrimination they face in terms of wages and the official apathy towards them. Among other pending demands, ASHAs are asking authorities to grant them government employee status, pension as a part of their retirement package, and disbursal of pending payments from April 2019 to November 2020. They have been on an indefinite strike since July 12. 

The strike has affected ground-level health services like vaccinations and maternity and child care in hundreds of Primary Health Centers, Community Health Centers, and Referral Hospitals in the State.

Sashi Yadav, president of the Bihar Rajya ASHA Karyakarta Sangh, told NewsClick that ASHA workers have risked their lives to provide health services during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 and creating awareness to prevent the spread of the virus. “If they are demanding a monthly honorarium, government employee status and pension, the government should fulfill it, but they have been neglected by the government,” said Satyendar Yadav of the Communist Party of India-(Marxist) while addressing the protesting workers. He added that his party supports them and called on the State government to fulfill their demands.

(With inputs from NewsClick)