Post-Mumbai suicide,nurses fight for ‘fair wages’

A few days after nurse Beena Baby committed suicide last October,unable to bear the alleged harassment in her Mumbai hospital,Jasmin Shah,a male nurse in her home state Kerala

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram | Published: February 27, 2012 12:37 am

A few days after nurse Beena Baby committed suicide last October,unable to bear the alleged harassment in her Mumbai hospital,Jasmin Shah,a male nurse in her home state Kerala,wrote on his Facebook wall,“today Beena Baby..tomorrow everyone of us…think.. Is death the only resort for us.”

‘Likes’ and comments posted on Shah’s status update fuelled an unprecedented revolt by the community of caregivers. Three months into its formation,the fire unleashed by apolitical United Nurses Association (UNA) has engulfed hospitals after hospitals,managed by powerful religious groups,business houses and NRIs. UNA,with a membership of 1.25 lakh nurses in Kerala and 34,000 elsewhere in India,has made the managements at least cough up minimum wages for the underpaid nurses.

The battle has spread across Kerala with some hospitals readily accepting the demand for better wages,while others putting up a short fight before succumbing to the stir. Every week,nurses open a new war front,get their demands addressed and take the struggle to another hospital.

This revolution has three male nurses in their early 30s as leaders. They have social networking websites as a major tool to keep afloat the spirit of the fight.

UNA president Jasmin Shah and his two friends — all now state-level leaders of UNA — had formed BSc Nursing Students Welfare Association during their course period in Calicut University a few years ago to address the course matters. “In the last week of October,soon after Beena Baby’s death,we had a get-together of the former association members in Thrissur. One of the participants told us that he would be forced to take the recourse of Baby as he could not repay his educational loan with a monthly salary of Rs 1,500. Many other colleagues had similar stories,” said Shah,who had been employed in Qatar until recently.

Shah,a Left activist in college days,said the Facebook post had triggered 2,000 responses,fuelling a do-or-die battle for nurses. That nurses in Mumbai and Delhi had boycotted duty to win better salary also prompted the group to try similar methods in Kerala. The first unit was formed at Mother’s Hospital in Thrissur on November 18. The hospital management terminated the services of 21 nurses who had completed the one-year bond as a sequel to the formation of the UNA unit.

“It took only a three-hour agitation on November 30 to tackle the hospital management,which agreed to increase the entry-level salary from Rs 2,500 to Rs 12,500,” said Muhammed Shihab,UNA vice-president.

What made UNA a rallying point of the nursing community was the attack on its leaders at Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences in Kochi.

“Nurses were sacked after the formation of a UNA unit at Amrita. The office-bearers were attacked on being invited for a discussion,” said Shah. The incident led to an outpouring of public sentiments in favour of nurses.

“If agitation at Amrita helped win the confidence of nursing community,the victories at Catholic Church-run Little Flower at Ankamali and Lakeshore,run by NRIs were a morale booster,” adds Shah.

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