Embarrassed to go door-to-door with condoms that now carry their name, the accredited social health activists or Asha workers have declined to help the government cover the state.
Running a family-planning campaign Under National Health Mission, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is giving away free contraceptives such as condoms, besides regular and emergency pills, through these ground-level woman motivators. When the fresh stock arrived in May, the product name had changed from Deluxe. “First they exploit us as employees and now they malign our image,” said an Asha worker, adding: “People now call us and say: ‘Ek Asha dena (Give me one Asha)’. They have even started making jokes on us. It is awkward and undignified.”
The new, “more attractive” package (in the government’s views) carries the image of a gorgeous couple to seduce men. Asha Workers and Facilitator Union state president Kirandeep Panchola confirmed that all Asha workers in Punjab had boycotted the distribution of these condoms “until the government changes its name and we get a fresh supply”.
Panchola said the Asha workers would take the issue to National Health Mission managing director Hussan Lal on Friday. Hussan Lal was unavailable for comments in spite of repeated attempts to reach him.
An Asha worker is a woman in the age group of 25 to 45 who is qualified up to Class 10 preferably. Provided with knowledge and a medical kit to deliver first-contact healthcare, every Asha (which in Hindi means hope) is expected to be a fountainhead of community participation in public health programmes in her village.