‘Even a domestic help earns more than we do’ – ASHA workers protest low honorarium and missing incentives

On October 30, ASHA workers from across Uttar Pradesh congregated in Lucknow, the state capital, to demand a hike in their monthly honorarium of Rs 2,000 and be considered a state government employee. A five-member committee is being formed to take the matter forward with the state government.

Arvind Shukla
| Updated: November 8th, 2021

Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

The ASHA (accredited social health activists) workers and sanginis (helpers), were lauded for their valiant work during the pandemic in the country. This frontline health workers’ force of about a million women is the backbone of the severely strained rural healthcare system in the country.

However, they feel let down by the authorities as despite additional responsibilities during the pandemic, these health workers continue to receive a very low honorarium and are struggling to make ends meet.

On October 30, hundreds of them from across the districts of Uttar Pradesh, congregated at Darul Safa in front of the Vidhan Bhawan, in the state capital Lucknow to make known their grievances. They demanded a hike in their income and wanted to be upgraded to state-government workers. These frontline workers said if their demands were not met they would protest in front of the residence of the chief minister Yogi Adityanath. 

Also Read: On two legs and a prayer, without proper safety gear, ASHAs conduct door-to-door COVID screening in rural UP

“Domestic help who work for not more than a couple of hours a day earn more than we do,” Sarita Dikshit, an ASHA worker from Lucknow, told Gaon Connection. “When someone tests positive for the coronavirus, we are the ones who visit them. No official will visit that household. We are on duty twenty four hours a day. Yet, all we get is two thousand rupees a month,” she added.

Dikshit also complained that she had not received the incentive of Rs 400 per case due to her for assisting in delivering babies, since April this year. 

On October 30, hundreds of ASHA workers from across Uttar Pradesh, congregated in front of the Vidhan Bhawan, in Lucknow to make known their grievances. Photo: Abhishek Verma

Backbone of the health services

ASHA workers participate in several health drives including assisting pregnant mothers, delivering babies, vaccination drives, anti-polio campaigns, vasectomies, etc. According to some of the ASHA workers at the protest site, there are nearly 50 such health schemes they assist in.

During the pandemic, their responsibilities increased as they had to screen people for symptoms of cold, cough and fever; and refer COVID19 patients to the nearest health centres. In return, they were promised Rs 1,000 as an additional monthly honorarium. However, ASHA workers complain that they have received the incentive for only two months in the past one and a half years or so since the pandemic began.

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

“We are being given step-treatment,” Seema Singh, state head of the ASHA Karyakarta and Sangini Welfare Association, told Gaon Connection. “There are nearly one and a half lakh ASHA workers and sanginis in the state, and they are paid two thousand rupees a month. They are supposed to be paid additional incentive for helping out in deliveries, etc., but that amount is irregular and negligible,” she pointed out.

Both during the first wave and the second wave of the pandemic, ASHA workers conducted surveys of migrants returning to villages, and if they had symptoms of fever, etc, these women health workers admitted them to hospitals, etc. But they got nothing for all the hard work they put in, complained Seema Singh.

“The authorities sat home during the pandemic. We on the other hand, stepped out despite the peril to our lives, leaving our own families behind,” Parul Gautam, an ASHA worker from Unnao district, told Gaon Connection

Also Read: “I have to wait for nine months to be paid Rs 600 incentive for one delivery”

Susheela Devi, also from Unnao, added her complaints. “We visited homes where there were people who were COVID19 positive. We took them to the community and primary health centres. The officials sat safely at home,” Susheela Devi said, adding that that was the reason they were protesting the unfairness of it all. 

ASHA workers demand a hike in their income and wanted to be upgraded to state-government workers. Photo: Abhishek Verma

Unfulfilled promises

“No ASHA worker in our district has yet received any money for the vasectomies they have assisted in,” Archana Mishra, who heads the ASHA association in Kanpur, told Gaon Connection. “We want the government to acknowledge that we are a part of their family. So we want to be recognised as state government employees and our pays should be hiked to eighteen thousand rupees a month,” she said. 

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

“All we are asking for is enough money to let us support our families and bring up our children… How can we do that with two thousand rupees a month,” asked Shuja, an ASHA worker from Lucknow. 

ASHA committee to meet the CM

Taking note of the protest of the ASHA workers, the health department has stepped into the dialogue.

“After our representation, the National Rural Health Mission has sent us a letter asking us to form a committee of five members to take up the matter with the chief minister,” Seema Singh informed Gaon Connection. “This letter has gone to all districts and we are in the process of constituting the committee,” she said.

Read the story in Hindi.