Frontline corona warriors like doctors, nurses and police personnel have been hailed for working during the pandemic. A group of workers who have largely gone unnoticed but have equally been at the frontline of the fight against the virus are ASHA workers and Civil Defence personnel. ASHAs (accredited social health activists) are local women trained to act as health educators and promoters in their communities. The Civil Defence personnel have been deployed to stand with the ASHA workers and ensure rules, regulations are followed by all individuals.
During the nationwide lockdown, these workers were working to conduct surveys, visit homes of quarantined individuals to stick posters and even home deliver medicines to Covid-19 positive patients. With no proper salary structure, both ASHA workers and Civil Defence personnel live off the work done by them during the month i.e. commissions. When the pandemic hit and the nation went into lockdown, both groups were thrust into the frontline with one of their major tasks being to conduct surveys so as to establish contact tracing of Covid-19 positive patients and deliver essentials to those in quarantine.
Seeing the extreme danger that these workers were putting themselves in, the Centre as well as state governments had offered incentives to these warriors for their selfless service. The on-ground reality, though, remains entirely different.
“Since March we haven’t been paid our dues. They said something about incentives to work during corona but now we are left asking for our basic pay. We get paid Rs 753 a day. Our job is to ensure the safety of ASHA workers and maintain law and order. Now we’re been pushed into doing the same job as an ASHA worker. We are giving medicines to Corona positive patients, we conduct surveys and we are even sticking posters outside homes,” said Artee Chowdhury, a civil defence service person.
The ASHA workers also tell a similar tale of how they’ve not been paid their dues and have been offered abysmally low incentives. “We earn only Rs 3,000 a month, we were told a Rs 33 incentive for each day of working since March. Even if you keep aside the fact that we haven’t been paid, do you think Rs 33 a day is enough to ensure I can get immunity boosting medicines for my children? Do you think it is enough for me to buy a mask and gloves daily? We aren’t given any protective equipment,” said Shiksha Rana, an ASHA worker in Delhi’s New Ashok Nagar.
Maharashtra-based Priyanka Praveen Kudle too has a similar story. “I live and work in a village called Nerle, in Maharashtra’s Sangli. I take great pains to ensure my family stays safe. I enter through the back door and my husband keeps a bucket of hot water outside. I wash my clothes, take a bath there itself and only then enter my house,” she said. Kudle was sent to a 7-km-away nearby village of Islampur, where 11 coronapositive patients were detected. She was tasked with contact tracing and helping quarantine the individuals. She was assured Rs 250 a day up to a maximum of Rs 2,000, she hasn’t been paid since March.
We tried to reach out to Delhi Revenue Minister Kailash Gahlot, but he did not respond to our queries and state health minister Satyendra Jain is currently unavailable as he’s recovering from Covid-19 himself.