Accredited Social Health Activists or ASHA workers, who have been protesting against the state government, demanding hike in payments, fixed wage and working hours, besides retirement benefits, have now decided to mobilise voters in every district against the BJP ahead of the Assembly polls.
About 400 of 42,000-odd ASHA workers from Vadodara, Anand, Surendranagar and other districts held a Snehmilan (meeting) in Kapurai village in Vadodara district on Thursday, during which they took a pledge to campaign against “the anti-women, oppressive, Hilter-shahi and tyrannical state government”. Led by government school teacher Chandrika Solanki, who is under suspension for leading the ASHA protests, the workers called it a “battle of emancipation” of women, who have been “long-exploited”.
With banners reading, “Soshanwali ye sarkar nahi chahiye abki baar (We don’t need exploitative government this time)” and “Hu shoshit chu, hu Gujarat chu, hu dukhi chu, hu pareshaan chu, ganda vikas no hu shikar chuthe (I am oppressed, I am Gujarat, I am sad, I am worried, I am the victim of the lunatic Vikas)” the women chalked out their campaign plan for each ASHA worker, who had otherwise “campaigned for the BJP”.
They said that their fight was not against the party. Citing an example of an ASHA worker, who died in Vadodara on Thursday, leaving behind a paraplegic husband, Solanki said, “What were we asking for? Just our basic right to a fixed wage and retirement benefit for women like these and their families. Had they agreed to some of our demands, even if not all, we would have felicitated Chief Minister Vijay Rupani for showing compassion and being understanding. But they ignored, oppressed, threatened and exploited us.”
The women resolved to put up banners in the community areas assigned to them, barring entry of BJP leaders. Solanki said, “We must tell the BJP leaders that if they enter such areas, it will be at their own risk. People connect with the woman who they see every day, not the Chief Minister or the MLA, who does not even show his face after winning the election.”
Solanki urged the women to ensure that “BJP leaders are chased away from each village.” “They thought we are poor, and many illiterate, could not take on the government…” she said.
Kailash Parmar, an ASHA worker in Kapurai area of Vadodara city, said she turned away BJP leader Bhupendra Lakhawala “who had come begging for votes” on Wednesday.
Solanki added an ASHA has 120 homes in a village under her, 2,500 in a city and 4,000 in a mega city. “It means you have so many families and their relatives, to whom you can spread the word that the BJP is anti-poor, anti-women, anti-farmer, anti-youth and Hitler-shahi, which misuses power for its benefit.”
The women also spoke about meeting Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. “…why we are supporting the Congress? They respected our protest by inviting us to hear our complaints, unlike the BJP. We have told our families to ensure that they spread the word too about voting the BJP out of power.”
Later in the evening, during their door to door campaign in the city, several ASHA workers, including Solanki, were detained by a team of women police from Pratap Nagar. The ASHA workers were allegedly distributing pamphlets with anti-BJP slogans.
Police Commissioner Manoj Sashidhar said, “We have acted on the basis of specific inputs to avoid law and order problem when there is presence of political leaders who have to be given security. The ASHA workers, if they were campaigning as they claim, had no permission from the returning officer, which is required with the model code of conduct in place.”