About 1,25,000 Anganwadi workers in Maharashtra are protesting inadequate facilities, a demand they have repeatedly raised. Women received smartphones in 2018 to record data from mothers and children. They have returned at least 80,000 phones in the past two weeks due to technical issues and outdated systems, which prevent them from saving data.
Anganwadi workers run the rural public health system. Before smartphones, they manually recorded data – on child nutrition, nursing mothers, pregnant women, and immunizations – and later categorized it for government use. The central government’s policy to provide smartphones involved recording data on the âPoshan Trackerâ, with the aim of speeding up the process. The Poshan Tracker requires workers to enter data and also upload images. Many have noted that smartphones, with limited storage and working bandwidth, are flawed and do not support the job.
“We have complained to the central government about the technical problems we have been facing but they are not listening to us … In the next two weeks, we will return all the 150,000 mobiles that have been provided to us”, Kamal Parulekar, general secretary, Union Anganwadi Sevika, says Hindustan Times. The demand is simple: provide better smartphones that make the process easier, don’t hinder it.
The workers did not stop work; they will record the data manually, as they did before. However, the information will not be uploaded to the government access portal. ââ¦ It’s essential for them to listen to our demands,â Parulekar said.
For workers in the rural public health system, the meeting with smartphones is thorny. It has been proposed as a way to make the data collection process efficient and accurate, and to help workers upload data to digital portals. Faulty smartphones and the lack of training in their use, however, complicated the process.
The platform is also predominantly in English, making it difficult for workers who prefer to use their proficiency in regional languages ââto engage in the digital app.
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ASHA workers protest in Bengaluru over low wages and PPE shortages
Like Anganwadi workers, Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) have also already smartphones requested. Manual documentation is a tedious task, even leading to inaccurate data and inefficiency in the delivery of health services. State governments require that the data be uploaded to their health portal. âNot all ASHA employees have smartphones and in such a situation it becomes very difficult to enter data. Sometimes we come home and ask someone from the family / neighbor to lend us a phone to do our work. We are not able to download the data before 5 pm as required because we do not have smartphones â, Rajbir Kaur, an ASHA employee, Recount The gallery. Kaur, along with other ASHAs, demonstrated in Ludhiana last month demanding a fixed salary and smartphones.
Some workers had to use their personal smartphones for this. A report in HT last month noted that due to the use of personal smartphones for government work, individual families are suffering. The women noted that their children were unable to access online education over the phone due to limited bandwidth. Other reports highlight how these apps are removing social media platforms from their phones without permission, encroaching on individual privacy.
Some note that scanning work, tracking daily activities, and even tracking other application and internet usage is a form of surveillance. âThere isn’t even an illusion of choice. It’s almost as if they want to earn money and put food on the table, they have to be under surveillance, âVidushi Marda, program manager at the ARTICLE 19 organization, told Coda Story.
What is more shocking is the wait to continue using phones that are not functioning properly. In some cases, workers note that they have been asked to have their phones repaired as a personal expense. To put this in context, repairs cost somewhere between Rs. 500 – 2,000. The monthly fees paid to most Anganwadi workers are between Rs. 4,000 and 8,000. ASHA workers and workers Anganwadi also do not have a fixed salary because the government considers them to be âvolunteer workersâ and not as employees.
For now, Anganwadi workers in Maharashtra say they will continue to demand better smartphones that allow them to do their jobs. In a system that requires downloading apps for official use, public health workers will have to navigate privacy and choice, while balancing that with ease of work.