Protesting trainee nurses held an all-night vigil on Saturday 18th September outside the local press club to press the government to transfer health and district authorities accusing them of victimisation. The all-night vigils and protest demonstrations are not the norm in this conservative and backward district of south 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 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 to raise their voice. To stop the nurses from organizing 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 at the main square of the city. In their speeches on the 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 the assurance, the student nurses ended their protest. The dispute seemed to be settled, but late on Friday night police approached the families of the nurses at their homes and pressurized them to bring their daughters back from the hostel before the sunrise. Police threatened the parents to if they do not bring their daughters back from the school hostel a criminal case would be registered against them.
However, instead of going back to their homes the trainee nurses, along with their families and sympathizers, decided to stage sit-in. The police officials have admitted that they contacted the families to ask them to take back their daughters.
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 demands to reinstate the sacked trainee nurses who have been illegally sacked 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 says that a couple of moths ago a nursing student had lodged such complaints with the DCO.
It is a couragious move on the part of the nurses to come out and speak publicly about the sexual abuse and harassment of the school authorities. Normally women and especially the working women tolerate this abuse and harassment on the basis that if they speak out about their ordeal than their families will not allow them to continue 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 to boycott the courts if the demands of the nurses were not met in next few days. Local MPs have also joined the protests to show their solidarity. The nurses have announced to continue the protests until their demands were not met.
It is worth mentioning here that Layyah district is among the worst affected districts of Punjab province where large number of people have been displaced by devastating floods. Most of these nurses come 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 to reinstate all the sacked nurses and 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 support this courageous protest movement of nurses.