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Asha workers protest at Jantar Mantar demanding better pay, face FIR

Since July 21, Asha workers, who are at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19 in the Capital, have been on strike. Their demands include Rs 10,000 honorarium per month and PPE kits.

Written by Ananya Tiwari | New Delhi |
August 12, 2020 3:50:03 am
Hundreds of Asha workers staged a protest at Jantar Mantar on Sunday. Abhinav Saha

Delhi Police has registered an FIR against several Asha workers for “protesting at Jantar Mantar on August 9 in violation of the unlockdown guidelines”. The case has been filed at Parliament Street police station under sections of the Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Diseases Act.

DCP (New Delhi) Dr Eish Singhal said, “Over 100 Asha workers gathered at Jantar Mantar on Sunday to protest, and many were not wearing masks or maintaining social distancing. This is how Covid-19 spreads and legal action will be taken against anyone who flouts these rules. Political and religious gatherings are not allowed.”

The FIR has also been filed against Centre of Indian Trade Unions that joined the protest.

Since July 21, Asha workers, who are at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19 in the Capital, have been on strike. Their demands include Rs 10,000 honorarium per month and PPE kits.

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“We are frontline workers who are being paid poorly and made to work without suitable safety options — at great personal risk. We tried reaching out to the government but when that didn’t work, we decided to protest at Jantar Mantar so our voice is heard,” said one worker.

Usha Thakur, general secretary of the Delhi Asha Workers’ Association (DAWA), said,“On Sunday a few hundred Asha workers showed up at Jantar Mantar with a clear agenda: ‘jail bharo’ for basic demands. So far, 150 Asha workers have tested positive for Covid-19. We are frontline workers with basic safety demands such as PPE, masks, gloves, sanitisers, and better honorarium.” Asha workers in more than 100 dispensaries across the city have joined the strike, she said.

There are over 5,000 Asha workers in the city, who work at dispensaries or primary healthcare centres — where they spread awareness on family planning, get children vaccinated, and do surveys on seasonal diseases. They are paid Rs 3,000 per month, plus Rs 1,000 as incentive, which can range from Rs 50-200 per case, on getting children vaccinated for measles-rubella or aiding the birth of children.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, Asha workers conduct door-to-door surveys to track the disease in their communities, put up quarantine posters for households with positive patients and ensure that those under home isolation get medicines and food. They were also asked to keep records of those who had symptoms and report to dispensaries, and to ensure that they selected people for the serological survey to check for antibodies.

On July 27, the Association met with Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain with their demands. Thakur said, “We asked that we either be paid Rs 10,000, or wages by the day. We also asked for the rules to be unified and clarified regarding incentives but there has been no follow-up regarding the matter.”

Many Asha workers are sole breadwinners of their families. Leelawati (36) is a widow who works at the Lal Kuan dispensary and has to support three children below 17 years of age. She said, “We have to be on duty 24×7 as patients can call any time asking for assistance. We were also made to do door-to-door surveys. We know our communities, the people. If we do not assist them, they stop responding to us.”

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