Protesting trainee nurses held an all-night vigil on Saturday 18th September outside the local press club to pressurize the government to act against health and district authorities for victimisation.
The all-night vigils and protest demonstrations are not the norm in this conservative and backward district of southern Punjab. Nearly 50 nurses started their protest on Friday against the sacking of their colleagues by the health authorities. It is not easy for women to spend the whole night on the street to press for their demands. It is a welcome sign for the workers and women rights movement that the working women of small cities and rural areas have started to come out and raise their voice. To stop the nurses from organising protests, the school administration ejected the nurses from the hostel. The nurses and their parents organised the rally, which passed through the main roads and converged on the main city square. In their speeches on this occasion, the speakers strongly condemned the police raids and ejection of trainee nurses from the school hostel.
On Friday, nurses staged a protest sit-in in front of the DHQ hospital and blocked the college road. To resolve the issue, provincial agriculture minister intervened and held negotiations with the students. Later, the minister announced that the principal and EDO would be transferred and expelled trainee nurses would be re-enrolled. After these assurances, the student nurses ended their protest. The dispute seemed to be settled, but late on Friday night police approached the families of the nurses in their homes and pressurised them to bring their daughters back from the hostel before sunrise. Police threatened the parents that if they failed to do so a criminal case would be registered against them.
However, instead of going back to their homes the trainee nurses, along with their families and sympathisers, decided to stage a sit-in. The police officials have admitted that they contacted the families to ask them to take their daughters back.
These nurses are demanding the transfer of DCO Javed I qbal and EDO health Dr Mukhtar Shah alleging that they have committed misconduct in the affairs of the nursing school. The protesting nurses also demand the reinstatement of the sacked trainee nurses who have been illegally dismissed by the health authorities. Some nurses have told the media that the school administration coerced them into committing “immoral acts”, an allegation also seconded by some political leaders of the area who say that a couple of moths ago a nursing student had lodged such complaints with the DCO.
It is a courageous move on the part of the nurses to publicly speak out about the sexual abuse and harassment of the school authorities. Normally women and especially the working women tolerate this abuse and harassment. They this out of feat that that if they speak out about their ordeal than their families will not allow them to continue in the job.
The local politicians, lawyers, human rights activists, community-based organisations and other sections of the society have also come out to join the protesting nurses. Layyah District bar Association (the district body of the lawyers) has announced a boycott of the courts if the demands of the nurses are not met in next few days. Local MPs have also joined the protests to show their solidarity. The nurses have announced the continuation of the protests until their demands are met.
It is worth mentioning here that Layyah district is amongst the worst affected districts of Punjab province by the floods. Large numbers of people have been displaced by devastating floods. Most of these nurses are from the rural areas and poor families. They are the only hope for some of the poor families. Most of these sacked nursing students belong to the affected families, which are already facing starvation and many other problems.
TURCP demands the reinstatement of all the sacked nurses and the transfer of DCO and EDO health.
An independent inquiry should also be conducted against the officials involved in the abuse and harassment of these nurses. TURCP fully supports this courageous protest movement of nurses.