Militant ASHA workers of Bihar force the Nitish Kumar Government to concede the demands
The brave movement of the ASHA workers of Bihar has forced the Nitish Kumar-led government in the state to increase the state share of remuneration from 25% to 50%. This has come after indomitable spirit shown by the 1-lakh odd ASHA workers in the state throughout the last 40 days of their indefinite strike.
It needs to be mentioned that ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) workers in Bihar were on indefinite strike since 1st of December 2018. This strike was organized under the banner of ASHA Sanyukt Sangharsh Manch- a joint platform of unions and associations.
Bihar government didn’t leave a single stone unturned to paralyze this strike. Apart from the use of routine tactics such as intimidation, threat and influence of feudal elements in villages, elaborate administrative machinations were employed. The Executive Director of the State Health Society, Bihar in a letter to all district magistrates ordered to keep surveillance on protests of ASHA workers. On the 27th day of the strike, when there was a statewide rail blockade by ASHA workers, heavy police force was used against the workers. In spite of this, workers ensured that railway movement in Darbhanga, Bhojpur, Muzaffarpur, Patna were disrupted for a significant span of time. In the course of this struggle, 4 workers lost their lives – 2 due to extreme cold and 2 in accidents.
There are 93,687 ASHA workers in Bihar who were recruited in rural areas with a purpose to counter against increasing Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) and Infant Mortality Rate (IMR). They form the backbone of the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) which has been under the attack from the Modi government, with massive budget cuts. Even though they are required to do upto 43 kind of tasks, they are not ‘workers’ as per government’s definition and hence, what they receive is not ‘wage’ , but a paltry ‘honorarium’. The main struggle of the 1 million odd ASHA workers across the country is to get the recognition of workers.
Total 12 demands were put forward by ASHA Sanyukt Sangharsh Manch some of which were as follows:
- Government employee status for ASHA workers;
- Minimum Rs. 18,000 monthly honorarium;
- 50 per cent reservation in nursing schools for eligible ASHA workers;
- After training ASHA workers to be given exemption in age limit and appointed as ANMs;
- 50 per cent BCM (Block Community Coordinators) posts for eligible ASHA facilitators;
- ASHA workers should get the benefit of all high-level committee recommendations including work terms and conditions and honorarium;
- ESI (Employees’ State Insurance), EPF (Employees Provident Fund) and social security for all ASHA workers.
The fact that Nitish Kumar government has been forced to increase the budgetary allocation; in itself paves way for resolution of the other demands raised by the workers. ASHA workers have brought a fresh wave of militancy in the trade union movement over the last decade. Not only this, they have brought in focus the concerns and questions of the women workers to the center stage in the working class movement. Women of Bihar have added a new glorious page in this inspiring history of our times.