In COVID-19 Battle, Mumbai's Army Of Women Also Fight Discrimination

The country's all-female army of health workers - Accredited Social Health Activists or Ashas - face prejudice from neighbours and even from the people they visit for surveys.

These workers face prejudice from neighbours and even from the people they visit for surveys.

Mumbai:

Just a few months ago, thousands of people stood in their balconies, clapping and banging pots and pans, to show gratitude towards the health workers fighting the pandemic. But on the ground, many of them face discrimination over the fear of the spread of the highly contagious virus.

The country's all-female army of health workers - Accredited Social Health Activists or Ashas - face prejudice from neighbours and even from the people they visit for surveys.

Anjali Agude is an Asha worker who lives in a 10X10 tin house in Mumbai's Mankhurd area. She has three teenage children and a 72-year-old ailing mother at her house.

Despite the fear of contracting Covid herself, she goes out every morning, doing door-to door surveys with minimum safety precautions.

"There is high risk involved. My children do not have anyone other than me. I even take care of my old mother" she said.

Even a cough or sneeze scares her, making her wonder, "What will happen to my family if I catch Covid?"

The family members of these workers fear for their safety and don't want them to be outside amid the global pandemic.

Wiping her tears, Ms Anjali's mother says, "I am scared for her. She is alone. Her kids need her. But she says 'my children will stay hungry, if I don't go out."

These workers visit houses located in remotest places in rural India and also the slums of urban India. The stench filled roads and pothole ridden by lanes of Mumbai are trekked down by these workers.

However, these women, who are among the country's first line of defence in the fight against the pandemic, face social discrimination due to the nature of their job.

Usha Bhambale says she faced discrimination from her neighbours who would not talk to her since they fear she would infect them.

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She says for a meagre salary of Rs 1600 per month she leaves her house so even her family stays upset with her.

"Family members say what do you get in such a meagre salary? You leave the house every day, leaving the household chores behind. What if anything happens to the kids? So they fight with me over this. Our neighbours have also stopped talking to us," says Ms Bhambale.

And along with their neighbours, sometimes these ASHAs - which also means hope in English - are even harassed by the people they visit for surveys.

"We have to check all the areas. But people abuse us, asking why we are there, why we are quarantining them. All sorts of issues. In high societies, we are not even allowed to enter," said Ms Bhambale.

There are 10 lakh Asha workers in the country and Maharashtra accounts for 70,000 of them.

Their Covid-related work involves doing door-to door surveys, quarantining the patients, staying with the patients till ambulance comes, and taking down all the details. And, for this they get paid over Rs 50 per day in Maharashtra. Although the government has said that they need to be paid Rs 2,000 per month, the union says they need to get at least Rs 300 per day for the amount of work they do and the risk it carries.

Sangeeta Kamble, CITU committee member has been fighting for their cause for a long time.

"We demand that our women should get permanent work. and timely salaries and also they should get the status of government employees," she said.

The challenges faced by these workers expose the faultlines in our society. It provide with a timely reminder topay attention to the pay disparities and the discrimination in our society.