ISLAMABAD: Protest by Lady Health Workers (LHWs) took a dramatic turn on Wednesday when some of them tried to set themselves on fire. One of them was even successful and received ten per cent burn injuries.
After hours of shouting, as the deadline of 3pm drew nearer, around 25 protesters including lady health workers account supervisors, and drivers – all from Sindh – sprinkled oil over themselves and got ready to light the matches.
At the moment, the waiting police came into action and a violent tussle with the protesters started where the police tried to rid them of the bottles of oil and matches.
Barkat Ali, one of the protesters managed to light himself on fire but the flames were quickly extinguished and an ambulance got him to Pims where he was stated to be out of danger.
But this is not the first time that the protesters have attempted self-immolation. In a previous protest in Lahore, the protesters tried a similar move, but then too, the timely intervention of police saved precious lives.
Lady Health Workers have been coming out for protests against non-payment of salaries and government’s failure to regularise their services for months all over the country and seem to have reached their limits. They demanded that 130,400 members of the LHW programme be regularised and their salaries paid.
On Tuesday, during their protest in Islamabad, they had given an ultimatum that if their demands were not met by 3pm on Wednesday, they would commit mass suicide.
As media gathered in front of the Press Club to see how things progress, people from the ministry of Human Rights made it to the protest and tried to convince the LHWs to come to the office of Adviser to the Prime Minister on Human Rights, Mustafa Nawaz Khokar, but the protesters rejected any such offers and demanded that Mr Khokar come and meet them directly.
“These are delaying tactics, government has been finding ways to delay our demands and we will not tolerate it,” commented one of them.
“We have been serving for over 18 years, but now we have no hopes of pensions or salaries and no future. We have even spent time in jail under charges of being terrorists. The women who help other women bear children are now being declared terrorists!” exclaimed Ms Bushra. The issue of the National Lady Health Worker programme had been controversial ever since devolution which made health a provincial subject. The fate of the programme was undecided too as provinces refused to claim them and the federal government abandoned them.
The issue of LHWs has been taken up by the Supreme Court, the Sindh assembly as well as the Prime Minister and various ministers on several occasions. But any moves made were temporary and nothing more than reconciliatory.
When asked that if LHW programme has been devolved, then why she expects the center to take responsibility, Bushra said for two years after devolution, the programme is supposed to be the center’s responsibility. The Prime Minister has also made statements in support of the programme until the next NFC award.
But, Ms Bushra points out: “The LHWs have been protesting for over four years, have not received salaries for months and suffered through every misery – now enough is enough.”