KARACHI: Hundreds of nurses and paramedics seeking an increase in their wages were subjected to water-cannon fire, baton charge, teargassing and manhandling, and many of them were hauled away by police as they tried to march on the Governor’s House to register their protest on Wednesday.
Undeterred by the brutal treatment, they again converged at the Karachi Press Club, condemned the authorities, staged a sit-in in front of the KPC and vowed to continue their protest till the acceptance of their demands. Later in the day they went home because of the violence in the city, but said they would resume their protest sit-in on Thursday.
An association of doctors and employees also announced their support to the protesting nursing staff.
Medical services at major public-sector hospitals remained paralysed.
The leaders of the nurses and paramedics belonging to the public-sector hospitals across Sindh rejected a health department update on their demands calling it a mere “lollypop from the bureaucracy”.
“We condemn the rough treatment meted out to the peaceful nursing and paramedical staff and have unanimously decided to continue our sit-in outside the KPC and not to report for routine work at the out-patient departments, wards and emergency sections at all government hospitals on Thursday,” said a representative of the protesters. “Now, or never.”
As per a plan announced by the Provincial Nurses Association, Sindh, nurses, nursing school students and paramedical staff gathered at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, the hub of their recent campaign to press the government to accept their demands for increases in salary, allowances, stipends and other perks and issuance of a notification for it at the earliest.
Holding placards inscribed with their demands, at around 10.30am they came out of the JPMC for a march and sit-in near the Sindh Governor’s House. However, the police in riot gear and supported by a water cannon, pounced upon them as soon as they took a turn on Zaibunnissa Street towards the Fountain Roundabout.
“We were all peaceful and still far away from what they described as the ‘red zone’ that police stopped us near the Zainab Market. Without giving us any warning, they started baton charging us, and fired teargas shells and the powerful water cannon,” said a couple of female nurses.
To avoid the police action, about a dozen of the female nurses took shelter in the nearby State Life Building, where people helped them regain their senses and breath, said one of the protesters who had gathered again near the KPC.
About seven protesters, including women, got head and leg injuries in the police action, while about 20 others shaken male and female nurses were picked up by the police and detained till 4pm. “They beat us badly, without any provocation or resistance, even after arresting us,” said Abro, a paramedic who was among those released by the police on the intervention of the health department.
Jamaat-i-Islami leaders Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Mohammad Hussain Mehnati, PPP leader Sharmila Farooqui, human and labour right activists were among the people who visited the protesters while they were staging a sit-in and condemned the police action.
Supporting the demands of nurses, senior members of the Pakistan Medical Association in Sindh condemned the baton charge and detention of nurses and called it “a black spot on the face of the democratic PPP government”.
The steering committee of the JPMC announced that the doctors, senior professors and employees of the JPMC, the National Institute of Child Health and the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases would hold a demonstration on Thursday to show their solidarity with the protesting staff and against the brutal police action.
At around 5pm, Sindh health secretary Syed Hashim Raza Zaidi told the newsmen that his department and minister Dr Sagheer Ahmad had already taken up the nurses issue with the top authorities.
“We only moved when the protesters defied the set rules,” said ASP of Civil Line Usman Ijaz. “They were clearly told that the particular area (Governor’s House) was under strict security measures and protests were not allowed there. They had agreed with us but all of a sudden what happened we don’t know that they started marching towards the Governor’s House.”
He was not sure about the number of nurses picked up by the police, but denied any arrest.