Demand for a fresh look at the safety, working conditions and abysmal remuneration to anganwadi and ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers involved in documenting and enumerating the Covid-19 trajectory has mounted as a number of these workers have been attacked by the public and even the police while performing their duties.
An estimated 36 lakh workers are employed under both the schemes and their pay scales vary between States. Convenor of All India Coordination committee of ASHA Workers Ranjana Nirula said nearly 10 lakh ASHA workers have been engaged in door-to-door surveys, tracking those who came from affected countries.
“ASHA workers are not provided with any training, nor have they been given any protective gear. In some cases, they are asked to purchase hand sanitisers and masks out of their pocket. ASHA workers are paid in piece rate, ₹2,000 per month remuneration announced is yet to be implemented,” she said.
According to an anganwadi worker in Nahan, Himachal Pradesh, their duties entail providing Take Home Rations (THRs) to infants below 3 years, track lactating mothers and immunisation schedule for them and infants besides providing cooked meals — breakfast and lunch — for children above 3 years.
“We are roped in for election duty, Aadhar registration and now Covid-19 data collection. I have 1,400 people in my anganwadi and I am doing door-to-door survey of each household to find out if anyone has visited a foreign country recently or suffers from respiratory ailments of specific kinds. I am also supposed to track vaccination schedules and lactating mothers. Then I am supposed to upload all this information online. I get paid ₹6,500 a month. This is less than even the minimum wage which is about ₹300 a day. We don’t mind the work but at least we should get paid,” she said on condition of anonymity.
“Kerala has provided them with masks and sanitisers. Punjab government has asked them to take necessary amount for such gears from the contingency fund. In many areas, they are unable to provide even food and supplies to the children enrolled in their anganwadis . Government offered Direct Benefits Transfer, but banks are not functioning and anganwadi workers find it difficult to get the money to buy food and supplies to children,” said AR Sindhu, General Secretary of All Indian Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers. She said about 26 lakh people are employed in the anganwadi sector.
CITU general secretary Tapan Sen highlighted the hostilities faced by these workers in a letter to Union Home Minister Amit Shah. “Two ASHA workers in Gohana, Haryana, were attacked by the police on 30 March 2020,” he said in the letter. He said a similar incident was reported from Supaul, Bihar. “It is unfortunate that these Corona Warriors who are the real link between the public and the government for combating the Corona pandemic are being treated in such a way,” he said.