The families of many ASHA workers in Karnataka, who have been at the frontline of the fight against COVID-19, have not received any compensation.

ASHA Workers in DavangereImage for representation
news Health Saturday, June 19, 2021 - 17:45

This story is a part of the TNM COVID-19 reporting project. To support this project, make a payment here

Manjunath spends his entire day staying at home, taking care of his children. In the past, the 49-year-old father of two used to work as a truck driver but since August 24, 2020, he hasn’t worked a single day, as his family was left shattered. It was the day his 39-year-old wife Swapna passed away due to complications after contracting COVID-19. Swapna used to be an ASHA worker in Malebennur near Davanagere in Karnataka. “My wife was a very courageous woman. When everyone was scared to enrol for work after the pandemic broke out, she came forward first, after which all others enrolled,” said Manjunath.

In a choked voice, he said, “From when the pandemic began, she used to travel from village to village for contact tracing and did her work with extreme dedication. Immediately after the 15th day of her infection, she once again went back to work, despite us asking her to rest. This was the kind of dedication she had towards her work.” After a few days of work, Swapna fell ill again, according to Manjunath, and she died at a hospital in Harihar. 

Manjunath said that in an act of desperation, he lied to the doctors there and did not disclose that she had COVID-19, over fears of her body being cremated by the authorities. “I lied to the doctor and did not reveal that she had COVID-19. I have lived with her for 18 years now. I couldn’t bear to have her taken from me. I had to reveal to the doctor later and the doctor told us that she had died due to a kidney related issue following COVID-19. I was able to get her body and cremated her according to our rituals. At least I could do this for her,” Manjunath said, holding back tears. 

Since Swapna passed away, Manjunath has been forced to stay at home and take care of their children as he couldn’t leave the house for long to drive trucks. When asked about how he has been managing to live without any means of income, he said that he had to borrow from other village residents who gave him money, considering his situation.

The Union government had rolled out an insurance scheme starting from March 26, 2020 under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan package, under which the families of ASHA workers who died due to COVID-19, would receive an ex-gratia of Rs 50 lakh. When asked if Manjunath received the compensation, he said, “It has been nearly 10 months since she died. Till now, we haven’t received any compensation. We have already submitted all the documents that the District Health Officer (DHO) asked for, but officials keep saying that the money hasn’t come from the government yet.”

Like Manjunath, families of many other ASHA workers, who have been at the frontline of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic since it began in India, have not received any compensation. 

Sakamma (58), another ASHA worker from Kurgod taluk of Bellary district, had passed away on May 10, 2020 while carrying out her duty. She had diabetes and according to her son, she could not have food on time due to the nature of her work. “It was a very hot day and when she was on duty, she suddenly collapsed. We immediately called an ambulance and by the time we reached Bellari, 20 kilometres away, she had passed away. Just a few days before that, she had developed a cough, but she had ignored it as she had to go for work,” said Sakamma’s son, also called Manjunath.

Manjunath added that the family depended on her wages as he was a daily wage labourer who only got work during agricultural seasons. “I am a daily wage labourer and most of the year I don’t have any work as agricultural work only begins when rains start. My mother was like the pillar that supported the family. Now that she is gone, we have been struggling to survive with no steady income,” he said. Sakamma’s family has also applied for compensation but is yet to receive anything. 

“We have spent nearly Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000 procuring all the documents they asked for in the Bellary hospital. I’ve had to travel to Bellary nearly five to six times till now to pursue the compensation amount. They have made me run from pillar to post. Once I was asked to be at Bellary, 20 kilometres away from our village, within half an hour. It has been over a year since my mother died but till now, we haven’t received a single penny,” he said.

An ASHA worker from Challakere of Chitradurga district named Shivaleela (39), passed away in September 2020 after several hospitals had refused to treat her. “The evening before she died, she suddenly became ill with a cough and fever. We took her to several hospitals where all of them refused to admit her. We came back home to try again the next day but she passed away soon. We came to know after she died that she had contracted COVID-19,” said Chandana, Shivaleela’s daughter. Chandana said that her father was a daily wage labourer and didn’t have a steady income and they too, are yet to receive any compensation.

When TNM contacted Dr Prabhudev Gouda, the state program officer, he said, “These claims are sent to the Government of India and they have to sanction the money. The power to sanction the compensation is not in our hands. Three claims have been sanctioned as of now.”

Speaking to TNM, D Nagalakshmi, the state secretary of Karnataka Rajya Samyukta ASHA Karyakarteyara Sanga affiliated to All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) said, “Overall, 12 ASHA workers have died before the second wave while on duty. Only one worker, who died in an accident, has received compensation. For a year, we have protested on several occasions for the families to be compensated and the MD and Commissioner just keep saying that it is being processed. This is inhumane. ASHA workers have risked their lives. We demand that the government immediately compensate these families. Many of these families were extremely dependent on these ASHA workers and they have been left to struggle.”

This story is a part of the TNM COVID-19 reporting project. To support this project, make a payment here

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