Volunteers of Women Coordination Committee pack condoms for distribution among prostitutes in the Sonagachi redlight area of Kolkata.Reuters file

Miffed with a government decision, the Accredited Social Health Workers (ASHA) in India have refused to distribute free condoms while campaigning door-to-door.

India's health ministry had recently revamped its family planning policy and directed for free distribution of condoms, oral contraceptives and emergency pills as part of a safe-sex campaign.

However, nearly 9 lakh health workers — the mainstay of India's public health sector — are refusing to distribute condoms because the ministry has renamed the male contraceptive as Asha, which is what the women health workers are popularly known as. The condoms were earlier called Deluxe, according to the Hindustan Times.

The health workers said they were offended by the new name given to the condoms by the authorities. They felt this would cause embarrassment to them when they go out to distribute them. "First they exploit us as employees and now they malign our image," an ASHA worker was quoted by the HT as saying. "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 ASHA workers' union president in Punjab, Kirandeep Panchola, told HT that all the ASHA workers in the state have refused to distribute the condoms and would not budge from their stand if government doesn't change the name of these condoms.

On the other hand, the health ministry has repackaged its contraceptive healthcare kit to attract more users.

The stance of health workers may seriously impact the new drive launched under the ambitious National Health Mission programme of the Indian government.

India's ASHA workers had earlier demanded better allowances and security from the government. Reports of violent sexual attacks on them have also come to light in the past.