Days in the Life of Asha Workers

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By ARPITA ROY

“Are we the disease? Why are we treated like cows and lambs? Every day you are coming for thermal checking,” an angry migrant worker yelled at them.

The lady in the traditional Indian saree knows the harsh truth. She knows her responsibilities and boundaries very well. Sandhya Dey, a supervisor for Asha workers was on one of her regular visits to a quarantine centre, a local Madarsa school in the village. As she got a random complaint about her junior colleagues not visiting the quarantine center.

“We are doing the job that we are ordered” she replies.

Bhastara, a remote village in Bengal is where all her frontline Asha workers are working tirelessly in the heat everyday fully well aware about the kind of danger they are exposed to. The semi-literate female workers are honest and obedient.

The day has come when the returning migrant workers have started entering the villages. Lack of awareness and literacy is the biggest challenge as some are hiding while others have taken shelter in the local schools. The condition of the schools are not good at all because of nil maintenance during the lockdown. That day the green zone area suddenly become a red zone with a sharp spike of COVID positive patients.

Balancing their work in this situation is another challenge for the Asha workers.

“They left the village to get a better life, so that their children can go to school and have a better future. It seems like everyone is talking about them but no one is ready to listen to them on ground” says a front line worker.

The Ashas are ordered to visit every House to check if anyone left behind or hiding himself. Two days back I got news that my childhood friend tested COVID positive and uncle died too as he had comorbidities of heart and sugar condition. Shandhya is exposed to the same danger but she has to do her job as she is a health worker whereas we are trying to go out just because we feel monotonous due to lockdown situations. Both are not the same and can never be compared.

“Knock! Knock! Has anyone come from other states? Do you have any symptoms like cough, cold or fever? Don’t panic we are here to help you, please cooperate with us”, said a kurti clad Asha lady wearing a protective mask, taking out her notebook while writing down all the names of the household.

“We wish them to be fit and healthy. They are the workers who work tirelessly whether be it hot, rainy or cold. It’s not the COVID that we are worrying about, it’s the poverty that will kill us before Corona”, says the mother of three daughters.

THE SCENARIO AT SANDHYA’S HOUSE HAS CHANGED A LOT. FOR EVERY ASHA WORKER FAMILY, THE DUTY TIME AND STRESS IS PROVING TO BE A HUGE BURDEN.

Sanitizing everything after coming back to the house from hospital duty or any visit has become a daily essential task. Even the fruits and vegetables are being sanitized which her husband brings from the market. Even a parcel delivered at their home seems like a corona bomb. Her husband is a heart patient which makes her all the more anxious.

The girls have taken up all the domestic responsibilities. They don’t touch anything before sanitizing themselves. From preparing hot water with Dettol or Savlon, readying food for their parents and cleaning their clothes, even going to market, they take up all tasks. The situation has proved that all domestic chores have become as important as regular office work. It has in a way helped the family to be closer.

AT THE INITIAL STAGE WHILE DOING DUTY, THE ASHA WORKERS WERE NOT PROVIDED ANY KIT. THEY TRIED RAINCOATS AS SUBSTITUTE OF PPE KITS. QUITE A FEW OF THEM FELL SICK IN THOSE DAYS. “NOW WE DON’T CARE WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO US, WE WILL BE DOING OUR JOBS!”

In midst of this situation, an Asha worker’s son is found positive without any major symptoms. They are quarantined at home. Sandhya got a call in the evening. “Madam, they are treating us very badly. They are making us feel low and harassing us mentally by throwing negative words at us. We can understand maintaining social distance. We have isolated ourselves from the beginning. The police is providing us food now.” Explaining her harried state, Sandhya’s colleague started crying over the phone.

Sandhya remained silent while thinking about the people for whom they have brought all vaccines when needed while working tirelessly to ensure that no one should be missed from the village, the same people is now spreading hate instead of being compassionate to her colleague.

“Don’t worry, tomorrow the police will deal with them if they are treating your family badly”, Sandhya consoles her junior. Every day she calls her up inquiring about their condition.

I witness all these moments. The eyes of all these humans shows the helplessness of humans in front of nature and calamity. Few days back, Cyclone Amphan brought about a devastating impact along with the pandemic. People were crying while fixing their homes…and social distancing in such a situation? Life goes on, it tops everything else in the priority list. This may seem thoughtless to others but one would never know until one is in those shoes.

The situation would have been controlled if international flights were stopped at a very early stage. Once the virus entered, it started replicating and relocating within the nation at such a pace, that a complete lockdown was required. But who is paying the price now?

We have seen the workers gathering in the city while barely maintaining social distancing. We should introspect before blaming them. Ask, what was their fault? The virus had already entered the nation by that time via some privileged people in flights, not them. Our privilege has become a suffering for them, a question of life and death, a question of survival.

In social media, we see people making homemade pizzas and other fancy food. It seems the entire restaurant is at your home. Yes, you have earned it. But do remember to share some with them who are happy with much less, happy if their basic needs are met. Be compassionate, share love. Only then shall humanity survive the test of time!

Arpita Roy is an adventurer, filmmaker and photographer who is always looking for stories. She is ever ready to develop her skills of film-making even if it requires climbing a mountain. Doing mountaineering expeditions and treks every year is common for her as they enhance her understanding of the mountains and upgrade her photography skills. She loves working with underrated, feet on ground level workers about whom nobody talks. Meeting new people, listening to their stories are her favorite part of the job. She believes, “Our work will always be there, whether we are there or not. Our talent should always benefit others somehow.”
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