According to ML Update, thousands of community health workers — known as ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists) — held a huge protest in Patna, in Bihar state, on March 21 calling for payment of a ₹21,000 (A$381) monthly honorarium (up from ₹1000 ($18) currently), as well as access to pensions, retirement and other employment benefits.
They gave the state government an ultimatum and threatened to take statewide strike action in April if their demands were not met.
ASHAs form the backbone of India’s rural health infrastructure, and their role and importance during the COVID-19 crisis was hailed by the World Health Organization. However, they are not recognised as workers and are deprived of employment rights.
They reject being forced to work as “activists” and paid a meagre amount as a “reward”. This arrangement has been rejected by all unions in the country, but state governments continue to exploit their labour.
ASHA leaders have also condemned Narendra Modi’s government for not mentioning them in the latest national budget, despite their long-standing demands for proper remuneration.
The honorarium for ASHAs is much higher in states such as Kerala, Tripura, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Rajasthan and West Bengal.