Kerala nurses find a voice that echoes all over

Nurses in Kerala, an unorganised sector so far, have plunged into an agitation that has been gathering support despite the absence of the backing of any political trade union.

Inspired by the spate of agitations across the world, nurses at a super-specialty hospital in Kochi, run by spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi Devi who is known as the hugging saint, staged a three-day stir last week for better pay and working conditions.

The United Nurses Association (UNA), launched on November 16, has set up units at 120 hospitals since, include one last week at the Mata's Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences. Its agitation at AIMS has already got the management to agree to "study the nurses' outstanding issues, including demand for minimum wages, within three months". This has inspired nurses elsewhere, with the UNA going on to serve notices to two Thrissur hospitals run by the powerful Catholic Church. In Thrissur alone, the UNA now has 10,000 nurses under its fold.

The agitating nurses did not enjoy the enthusiastic coverage that the Kerala media had given to recent nurses' agitations in Delhi and Mumbai. Support, however, poured in from online communities, with networking sites discussing the AIMS agitation.

After the launch of the unit, the AIMS management had taken disciplinary action against two office-bearers of the union, dismissing one and transferring the other. The UNA took this up; the agitation began when six office-bearers were assaulted on the campus.

"We went to meet the HR manager to discuss the disciplinary action taken against two male nurses. The management had been irked by the formation of the unit," said Muhammed Shihab, UNA state vice-president. "The assistant HR manager took us to the manager's office, outside the hospital building but on the institution compound," Shihab said.

He said they were going upstairs to the manager's chamber when a group of people attacked them with rods and sticks. One of the office-bearers, Bibu Paulose, suffered a kneecap fracture. Even after the injured were taken to the casualty ward, the attackers remained on the campus. For fear of further attack, the injured were shifted to another hospital.

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