Every time we ask for money, they give us excuses, say these ASHA workers from Karnataka.

Why 15000 women descended on the streets of Bengaluru in a sea of pink
news Protest Friday, January 03, 2020 - 18:02

The Anand Rao Circle flyover in the heart of Bengaluru was a sea of pink on Friday. At least 15,000 women from across Karnataka had descended on the streets of the city, taking a rally out from the Bengaluru City Railway Station to Freedom Park in Gandhi Nagar. The women are ASHA workers – ‘honourary volunteers’ according to the Government of India – who do the crucial job of ensuring that the health and nutrition of people in our villages is up to mark. However, these women have not been paid properly for the past 15 months in Karnataka. 

“They expect perfection from us in our work,” says Jyothi R, who lives in a village in Shivamogga district, “But when the time comes to pay us, they just keep giving us excuses.”

“In my case, they have been saying that there is a software error in their computer for 15 months now. What kind of computer doesn't work for so many months?” Jyothi asks. “We feel the government is taking us for granted. I have been struggling to survive on the paltry sums I have been getting for the past 15 months. Some months, I got just Rs 2,700. Other times, I didn't even get that. And even this money is not even half of what I am entitled to,” she says. 

A bad policy made worse in implementation

ASHA workers – or Accredited Social Health Activists – are employed by the government in villages across India as ‘honourary volunteers’ to work on meeting the government’s health targets. This includes immunisation, institutional births, family planning, nutrition etc. In most states, ASHA workers are paid ‘incentives’ for the specific targets that they meet, and do not get a standard salary. 

In Karnataka, ASHA workers are paid a fixed sum of Rs 6,000, which includes Rs 4,000 from the state government, and Rs 2,000 from National Health Mission funds. They are also eligible for incentives between Rs 3,500 and Rs 5,000 per month. 

But for several months now, they haven’t been paid their dues properly, say ASHA workers. 



Srilatha from Ballari says that she has been forced to take up odd jobs just to make ends meet. "I am the only earning member in my family, and my mother is sick. When I get only Rs 3,000 as salary, what should I do? I have taken loans listening to promises that we will be paid quickly, and I’m now in massive debt.”

The workers gathered in Bengaluru are demanding that their dues be cleared immediately; that their salaries be increased to Rs 12,000 per month so that they have a living wage; and that they be made permanent employees so that they can have job security. 

“The government must give us an increase in payment and pay us all our dues so we can live in peace," Srilatha says. 

The strike was called for by the All Indian United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) to bring to the state government's attention the plight of the health workers, all of whom are women. The women arrived from all over Karnataka in buses, trains, and cars, and rallied from the Bengaluru City Railway Station to Freedom Park – and they plan to strike work indefinitely while protesting at Freedom Park until their demands are met. 

Government denies non-payment of dues

However, the government of Karnataka has denied the allegations by the health workers. “The allegation and reports that remuneration to ASHA has not been paid for 15 months is wrong. The remuneration under state government component of Rs 4000 as well as NHM component of Rs 2000 performance-based incentives which ranges from Rs 3000 to 4500 has been paid to ASHAs upto November 2019 and December 2019 payments are under process,” the Commissioner of Health and Family Welfare Services of Karnataka said in a statement. 

Meanwhile, the state Health Minister B Sriramalu asked the workers to call off their protest and said that the government is willing to listen to their demands. The Health Minister told TV9, "The ASHA workers do some important and good work. They are demanding that they get paid all their dues on a single date. We have already sent the file (asking for the pay hike) to the Finance department."

Addressing the workers who are protesting, he said, "We are also working on a solution that we believe all ASHA workers will be satisfied with. You are all like my mothers and sisters. I respect the work that you do, and will work to save you."

This is not the first time that the ASHA workers have gone on strike regarding non-payment of due and the demand for a pay-hike. They have come to Bengaluru on several occasions in the past two years. In September 2017, the ASHA workers held an all-night protest, sleeping on the roads in strike and demanding their payments. In October 2018 too, the workers conducted a protest of thousands of people, who were protesting against the non-clearance of dues.

The protesters were forced to sit on the street as there was no space in the Freedom Park ground.

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