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Health Workers Asserting their Rights Intimidated, Threatened by the Police

Last week, police cracked down on a health workers’ demonstration in Bhopal and detained them illegally; the workers’ protest is part of the larger labour rights movement being led by several groups of ASHA-USHA workers and anganwadi workers across the country.

“Do it now, make us permanent. We are united in our cause.”

On October 3, more than 2,500 women staged a protest in front of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s residence in Bhopal. The women were representing the ASHA-USHA Sahiyogini Karyakarta Sangathan, a collective of community health workers from 17 districts of the state demanding their right to fair compensation, better working conditions and fair representation.

In Madhya Pradesh, the group’s mobilisation goes back to International Women’s Day 2018, when they first staged a demonstration in Bhind, asserting  their rights as workers and as women. When they decided to stage a protest in Bhopal last week, it seemed to be their last chance at meeting the Chief Minister, who had repeatedly failed to act on his assurances.

“All this while, our pleas fell on silent ears, so we had to resort to marching up to his residence. The inaction has been demoralising,” she says.

“We had to take this step out of compulsion. He had ensured us that he would talk to the central government but we never heard from him again. We need money to run our households, we are making these demands to support our families,” says Laxmi Kaurav, who is part of the collective. The group first raised the group’s demands with Chouhan in April, following which Kaurav personally met him on five more occasions.

However, as the collective of health workers marched towards the Chief Minister’s residence, the protest turned ugly with the police cracking down on the group and taking some of them into custody. The police huddled the protestors in vans and drove them around the city before taking them to the police station; amongst those pushed into the van was also a five year old boy. Later in the day, the police also registered cases against at least a hundred protestors.

In the midst of the police crackdown, one of the ASHA workers climbed a tower and eventually fell from it, sustaining injuries. She was taken to Hamidia Hospital and was accompanied by some of her colleagues, including Kaurav. What followed was a series of unlawful events amounting to police harassment.

At the police station, Kaurav was made to sign documents without being allowed to consult a lawyer and in the absence of a witness. “They said that one was a document for my arrest and the other for my bail. They also wanted me to sign a blank document,” she says. When Kaurav protested, one of the police personnel threatened to turn off the CCTV cameras and “take her to a corner and teach her a lesson.”

For four days, she was then detained at Hamidia Hospital, where her injured colleague was being treated. Not only was she detained, she was also kept under constant surveillance by policemen in plainclothes and by women in uniform who said they were from the Crime Investigation Department (CID).

As per Supreme Court guidelines, a memo of arrest must be prepared at the time of arrest, and a copy of the attested memo must be given to the person being arrested or detained. The police is also required to inform the person under arrest of the latter’s right to inform a family member of the arrest. Kaurav was deprived of all these rights.

Video by Video Volunteers’ Community Correspondent

Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team

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