Ground Report: Earning Rs 120 for 12 Hours of Work, Bihar’s Mamta Workers Suffer Everyday Humiliation, Govt Apathy
Fair wages is a distant dream for these health workers who are forced to do menial jobs by hospital administrations.
Motihari is the headquarter of East Champaran district in Bihar. Around 15 kms from Motihari, near the Nepal border, stands the Sagauli railway station. Everyday, Raziya Devi catches the 1 pm train from this station to get to Sadar Hospital from 2 pm to 10 pm, where she works as a ‘Mamta’ worker. At 10 pm, she leaves the hospital and catches the train back home.
Raziya Devi says, “I’ve been working for 12 years but till today, we don’t have identity cards or a uniform. When we demand a uniform, the officers threaten to sack us.”
Raziya Devi belongs to the Ravidas community, a Mahadalit community in Bihar. She complains that she hasn’t been paid in three months. “Earlier, we were paid Rs 55 for each newborn we took care of, now this has been increased to Rs 300. But they cheat us. We’re able to earn hardly Rs 3500-4000 a month,” she says.
Who are Mamta Workers?
Like ASHA, Mamta workers are also classified by the government as “volunteers”. The nomenclature is different in other states — Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Odisha. In Uttar Pradesh, they are known as ‘Yashoda’.
Mamta are health workers, tasked with taking care of women who have just given birth and their newborns. They are paid an honorarium of Rs 300 per delivery. Over a month, they are able to earn only Rs 3,000-4,000. The pay is not nearly enough for the amount of work they put in.
In East Champaran’s Sadar Hospital, there are 42 Mamtas. In Bihar, there are 6,000 such workers.
Defrauded of even the meagre pay
Rambha Devi, who has been working as Mamta for 9 years, tells us, “While calculating the honorarium, they cheat us. In reality, we should receive around Rs 9,000 a month but the hospital clerks intentionally botch up the calculation by under-reporting the number of newborns. Due to this, we are able to get only Rs 3,000-4,000 a month.”
Rampati Devi says, “I haven’t been paid in four months. First, the clerk at the hospital got me to open an account at Central Bank of India, Rajabajar. Now, he says that until I open a new account in another bank, they won’t deposit my honorarium. My husband is a labourer and we live in a rented room in the city, it has become very difficult to sustain ourselves.”
Rambha Devi adds that when they complain about the alleged fraud to the hospital administration, the officers hurl abuses and threaten them with termination.
When NewsCentral24x7 contacted Dr BK Singh, the civil surgeon at the Sadar Hospital, our calls went unanswered. He was not available in his office when NewsCentral24x7 visited.
Bullied, forced to do menial jobs
Prabhavati, the president of the East Champaran district Mamta Association, explains, “Women from marginalised castes have been appointed as Mamta workers. Other officers & workers in the hospital hurl abuses at us. Our job is to care for women who have given birth and their children. But the hospital nurse, Ratna Ghosh, makes us do the Dai’s job. It is the government-appointed Dai’s duty to change the pads of the patients but these people threaten us and make us do that work.”
Vibha Devi*, who works the night shift at Sadar Hospital, says, “We are made to work in the operation theatre. They assign us to work in the ICU one day in each week. The officers ask us to fetch water for them, even force us to do jhadoo-poncha (cleaning the floors). And we’re not given any extra money for all of this work. We are being exploited. We cannot raise our voice because of the fear of losing our jobs. Please help us.”
12 hour night-shift but no facility for a moment’s rest
Prabhavati Devi works the night shift at the Sadar Hospital — from 8 pm to 8 am. She says that there isn’t even a room in the hospital where she and other workers like her could rest for some time. She has to spend the entire night sitting on the corner of a patient’s bed.
She says that there should be at least one room in the hospital where they could relax. Others who work the night shift agree. Considering the night shift is in itself a challenging thing for women to do, the administration is indifferent towards providing them such basic facilities.
Is anyone listening?
Bihar Chikitsa and Jan Health Karmchari Association’s Vishwanath Singh says that the Mamta workers are not given ID cards or a uniform, which puts them at additional risk. In cases of child kidnappings in hospitals, Mamta workers are often accused and misbehaved with.
He adds that Mamta workers should be paid a minimum of Rs 18,000 a month.
Mamta workers are funded by the Bihar government. They are appointed to hospitals at the block level. Currently, they are unable to receive even the meagre honorarium that they are offered.
They have been holding demonstrations to voice their demands. In January this year, a protest was organised in Patna. However, their pleas fell on deaf ears. Around 6,000 Mamta workers in Bihar are facing a daily struggle for fair wages and dignity of labour.
*Name changed to protect identity.