ASHAs in Madhya Pradesh on an indefinite strike; 29 arrested, released, but refuse to call off their protest

For nearly a month, frontline health workers in the state are on an indefinite strike demanding a monthly pay hike, status of permanent workers and compensation for dead colleagues. More details here.

Shivani Gupta
| Updated: June 26th, 2021

Over 60,000 of these protesting ASHA workers claim that unless their demands are met they will continue to boycott their duties. Photo: By arrangement

Since June 1, thousands of ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers across Madhya Pradesh are on an indefinite strike demanding a hike in their monthly honorarium and status of permanent workers. Over 60,000 of these protesting female frontline workers claim that unless their demands are met they will continue to boycott their duties.

What has added fuel to fire is that two days back some of these ASHA workers were arrested by the police. “We were arrested on June 24 between 1-2 am in the night. We were told that we will be released on the condition of signing blank papers. All of this was done so that we withdraw the strike,” Laxmi Kaurav, director of AHSA USHA Sahyogi Sangh, a state level organisation, told Gaon Connection.

Blank paper signed by the members. Photo: By arrangement

According to Kaurav, 29 ASHA workers were arrested in the state capital Bhopal and forced to sign blank papers before their release the next day (June 25) after 8:30 pm. “Unless the government accepts our demands, we will be on an indefinite strike,” added Kaurav who is a resident of Barthara village of Bhind district in Madhya Pradesh.

These ASHA workers have been on strike since the beginning of this month. However, two days back on June 24, a state-level protest was initiated by these women workers. Their protest was joined by over 60,000 women frontline workers in 42 districts of the state. All these thousands of workers sat in protest in front of the offices of 1,250 Chief Medical Health Officers across the state.

In response to the state-level protest, 29 ASHA workers, including Kaurav and AT Padmanabhan, state director, ASHA USHA ASHA Sahyogi Ekta Union, were allegedly arrested by the police near Mayur Park in Bhopal.

Following the arrest of their leaders, the workers set effigies of the government on fire in protest across the state. Gaon Connection hasn’t independently verified the claims of the protesting ASHA workers.

“Our morale is being damaged, but we will continue to fight. We were asked to disperse the dharna (protest), but we will call off the strike when we get an official letter complying with our demands,” said Kaurav.

ASHA workers have been on strike since the beginning of this month. Photo: @namhhr/twitter

What are the demands of ASHAs?

The ASHA workers in the state have been demanding an increase in the monthly honorarium besides permanent worker status. For each ASHA worker, the demand is Rs 18,000 a month salary (not honorarium); and Rs 24,000 a month for ASHA sahyogini (facilitator).

So far, ASHA workers under the health ministry’s National Health Mission (NHM) get a fixed honorarium of Rs 2,000 a month. An ASHA sahyogini on an average gets Rs 7,500 per month.

“For 15 years, ASHAs have been working on Rs 2,000 a month wage. Several requests for an honorarium hike have also been made earlier,” Padmanabhan, who works under the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), national level trade union assembly of workers, told Gaon Connection.

“On June 24, the NHM [National Health Mission] said that a proposal of Rs 10,000 for ASHA workers and Rs 15,000 for ASHA sahyogi would be given to the state government. We are waiting for that official letter from NHM,” said Padmanabhan.

According to Kaurav “we were told that we will get an official letter in two hours. It’s been two days since then and we have received nothing”. She said a similar assurance was given in a meeting with officials on June 8.

ASHA workers on strike in Satna, Madhya Pradesh. Photo: By arrangement

No compensation for dead colleagues

Last year, the central government introduced the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package Insurance scheme for all healthcare workers including ASHAs engaged in COVID19 response. The insurance scheme provides a life insurance cover of Rs 50 lakhs [Rs 5 million] in case of death due to the coronavirus.

As per the director of ASHA workers union Kaurav, so far seven to eight ASHAs in Madhya Pradesh have died in the line of duty since the beginning of the COVID pandemic last year.

“Only families of the three dead ASHAs have received compensation money. Four still need to be covered,” complained Kaurav. “Besides, we demand this compensation amount for accidental (injuries) cases as well. In the entire MP (Madhya Pradesh), twenty accidental cases have been reported. Of these, two-three ASHAs have also died. But none of them have received any compensation,” she alleged.

Protesting health workers. Photo: @namhhr/twitter

Also Read: ASHAs brave the second wave of COVID19. Without masks, sanitisers and rightful remuneration

Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, a non-profit working for public health rights, has written to the mission director of National Health Mission, Madhya Pradesh, to issue a written assurance in compliance with the demands of these health workers. In the letter dated June 26, the public health network has highlighted the month-long strike of these frontline workers is impacting rural healthcare.

ASHA workers in Madhya Pradesh aren’t the only ones protesting and demanding higher monthly compensation. Gaon Connection has been reporting on how ASHA unions in several states have launched protests demanding fair wages and proper safety gear in the COVID19 pandemic.

In Maharashtra, at least 77,000 ASHA workers had launched an indefinite strike on June 15 and boycotted their duties demanding fair wages, and insurance/compensation along with some other demands. After the state government’s assurance of a monthly hike of Rs 1500, they called off their strike on June 23.

Also Read: A monthly hike of Rs 1500 for ASHAs in Maharashtra; strike called off but frontline workers far from satisfied

Last month on May 24, over 42,000 ASHAs across the southern state of Karnataka boycotted their duties in protest against their pending honorariums for the months of March and April.

Also Read: A day after state-wide strike by ASHAs, 17 of 31 dists in Karnataka release their pending honorariums