ASHA workers, dressed in their trademark red, on Wednesday gathered here in hundreds from across the state to demand their right to basic necessities.
Taking out a march from the protest ground of the city to reach the Haryana Assembly in Chandigarh, they were halted at the Panchkula-Chandigarh border where hours went by as they sang and clapped, not caring two hoots about social distancing norms.
The protest which began on August 7 ended late in the evening, after personal assistant to Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar promised them to present their demands to the CM, who is in isolation at a private hospital of Gurugram, as he tested positive for the virus Monday.
“We have ended our protest but not our dissent against the cruel behaviour we have been subjected to by the government throughout the pandemic. We will go back to our jobs, for we understand our duty towards people of our areas but we will not undertake even a single task which relates to Covid-19,” said Suman Lata, an ASHA worker of Panchkula.
The protest march witnessed a minor scuffle between the police and ASHA workers. “When we tried to break the barrier, the police became hostile, but they did not do anything. Nor they could have, for the government itself would look bad beating up women who have worked selflessly throughout the pandemic,” Suman added.
Initially started as a three-day affair, the protest was supposed to end on August 10 but continued after the government paid no heed to these workers, who have remained the most hands-on people at the disposal of civil authorities for any and all health-related matters on the ground.
“The deaths and lives are only numbers on sheets of paper, they are family and friends to us,” Suman said.
Forming the spine of the healthcare system of India, the workers had been tasked with conducting on- ground surveys, collecting real-time data, assessing spread, checking for symptoms, motivating women towards family planning and healthcare, keeping demographic records, surveying hotspots and containment zones apart from their everyday jobs of administering medicines and vaccinations to pregnant women and children.
The meagre pay of Rs 4,000, far less than that of a daily wager, has failed to provide for them, especially amid the pandemic. Incentives, healthcare insurance and protective gear are terms alien to their profession.
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