Bihar ASHAs Strike Enters into Fourth Week

The indefinite strike of ASHA workers in Bihar has entered into the fourth week without any solution in face of the state government’s unwillingness to implement the already agreed upon demands of the latter. The rural health services are on a halt for almost a month because of the insensitive attitude of the state government, said Shashi Yadav who is among the leaders who spearhead this historic assertion of the workers in the rural health sector for a nine-point charter of demands. 

The role of ASHA workers has been hailed by the World Health Organisation, the Patna High Court, and many more institutions and organisations for their services and commitment towards the rural health welfare services. Ironically, the Bihar health department refuses to give them even a respectable honorarium and minimum retirement benefits. At present Bihar ASHAs do not get honorarium equal to what is being given in many states. In some states they also get a Rs. one lakh as retirement package besides a pension. But not in Bihar. 

These demands were included in the election manifesto of the Mahagathbandhan which is now in the government in Bihar. The deputy CM Tejaswi Yadav who is also head of the health portfolio had agreed to transform the monthly award money into the honorarium and to make an increase in monthly payment, but the promise was not kept in spite of the repeated reminders and memorandums. Now the state government has launched a repression and intimidation campaign to break the resolve of striking health workers but they are determined to not succumb to the pressure and continue with the strike till the demands are met. 

The ASHA workers have given a nine-point charter to the government after studying the remunerations, in the name of honorarium, being given in other states. They are demanding a minimum Rs. 10000 monthly and pension benefits. Facing state’s unresponsiveness they have decided to scale up the strike and mobilise in huge numbers in the state capital Patna on 3 August to build pressure for their demands. Thousands of ASHAs will assemble at Gardanibagh also to make common people aware of their genuine demands. 

The president of Bihar Rajya ASHA Karyakarta Sangh Shashi Yadav said that thousands of ASHA workers have been braving severe heat to continue this peaceful strike. The government is not willing to even give them their previous dues of 18 months. Many of them have fallen ill but their morale is high and the struggle will continue. 

Their negotiations with the government in two rounds have so far yielded no result and about 90,000 health workers, who are asking for a minimum 10000 monthly payment instead of the meagre Rs. 1000 they get at present, refused to succumb to the pressure tactics of Nitish government. 

The ASHA Workers Unions in the state are demanding to fulfil the electoral promise made to them which was again agreed to before election by Tejaswi Yadav, Dy CM and Health Minister. During the last Budget Session of the Assembly the government assured to increase the monthly honorarium but that was also not implemented. 

Now the Bihar government has started repressive measures which also include to ‘deselect’, which means retrenchment, ASHAs who are absent for a month. They are also being threatened with filing of criminal cases against striking leaders and workers. The ASHA workers, ASHA Facilitators and their leaders as well as unions are unmoved in face of threats and determined to continue the strike till the demands are met.

Rally on 3 August