Not all battles are fought at the battlefield, not all fighters wear uniforms. Some wear purple sarees, and let the soles of their shoes wear out travelling village to village so you and I can live. We call them ASHA Didis, all of them carry hope. During the COVID19 pandemic, more than ever, these nimble-footed warriors ensured every kind of help reaches people with less access to healthcare, food, and medicines. Over the past one year, their roles have been intense and ever challenging.
They brushed aside their own health scares and went door to door extending help to all who needed. But imagine playing that crucial role a role and not being paid Rs. 32 for it, worse still, not having been equipped enough in terms of precautions must for frontline workers. ASHA workers were formed under the National Rural Health Mission in 2005 to perform functions such as vaccination of children and guidance to new mothers, but they had to assume a greater role during the pandemic.
Even as they committed to the job entrusted to them, the calls of: “Hamari maange puri ho (Fulfill our rightful demands)”, ran alongside. Video Volunteers documented their plight over the year from different parts of the country.
“Our children wait for us to return home so they can eat, but we are constantly working,” said an Asha worker in Madhya Pradesh. “We are working day and night, despite that we don’t have facilities as basic as masks and gloves, forget any kind of support for our families,” said another, who was part of a long human chain protesting the government’s lack of attention to their situation. They did receive some incentive for their work but the amount was so miniscule that it would be spent on daily commute. In comparison, ASHA workers from neighboring states such as Andhra Pradesh earn Rs. 10,000 as salary every month. Wages in states like Kerala, Haryana and Delhi are significantly higher too, reports .
“The government is ready to pay us Rs. 50 lakhs after we die but not even Rs 10,000 while we live,” said one.
Sanitizers and one-time use masks are a joke, many Asha workers will tell you.
In Jammu Kashmir, an ASHA worker died on duty, much to the grief of villagers and family members. Her husband, who is seriously diabetic and jobless, would find much support even in the Rs. 1,000-2000 rupees that she earned. Stories such as these are never ending.
Then there are ambulance workers, whose contribution towards the fight against the COVID-19 largely goes unnoticed, even by the government. Jahanara Ansari’s video report on the lack of insurance coverage and safety kits is the focus that should’ve been widespread. These ambulance drivers sometimes double up as attendants helping to carry patients to hospital wards. In return, they only get salaries from ambulance owners.
This is India Unheard , and these are stories that will hardly make it to the mainstream media. But they are very important stories nonetheless that need to be consistently told.
This article is part of a series called Second Wave Diaries that documents how the COVID 19 Second Wave affected the lives of millions in the hinterland and highlights stories of despair, hope, and everything in between. across India after their migration from tier cities and towns. Read the other articles in the series by clicking the links below.
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