Issues related to Manipuri nurses in Kolkata
Kshetrimayum Shyamkesho Singh
1. At Kolkata, there are approximately 1200 nurses working in different hospitals and health service providers. They are part of the total approximately 3500 Manipuri people at Kolkata.
2. Nurses from Manipur are well known for their high level of dedication and forms the backbone of health care services at Kolkata. The Manipuri nurses are also well sought after by international community for their sincerity. We are very proud that majority of the Manipuri nurses at Kolkata are still working sincerely & relentlessly 24/7 in support of the people of West Bengal in fighting Covid-19. It is only about 300 nurses, including nurses under training and fresh nurses, out of 1200 approximate total nurses, who left Kolkata. Many of them did not want to leave, but they have been forced to return home by compelling circumstances & many odds.
3. Recently, there have been various social and media reports about the Manipuri Nurses leaving their jobs at Kolkata to return home during this pandemic. Often the line taken was, as if, they had abandoned their post and ran away. This is far from the actual ground reality. The negativity of these initial reports have somewhat tarnished the image and prestige of Manipuri nurses despite their dedicated service. We sincerely hope that Manipuri nurses will get their justice, their well-deserved respect and the people will acknowledge the invaluable contributions still made by the Manipuri Nurses in the health services West Bengal.
4. Reasons for Leaving. There are various reasons for the nurses to leave Kolkata. Recently most of nurses were individually contacted to hear their story. Based on nurses' feedback, some of the compelling circumstances for leaving Kolkata are:
(a) Social and Security Issues. After a strenuous long duty at the hospital, when they come home, Manipuri nurses had to undergo multiple social discriminations, primarily due to their oriental features. These have increased during the present crisis. There has been a case of spitting upon with racial slurs. One would agree that, this is the lowest level of treatment meted out to a creature leave alone a human being. Some have experienced general undignified and intimidating calling derogatory names like "Corona, Corona". Most girls are young and live in small pockets in various localities. This has made them feel very unsafe, insecure and uncomfortable. One can put himself on the shoes of these young girls and imagine very well how they feel.
(b) Social Ostracism. There has been few occasions when returning home after a prolonged duty, they have been refused entry at their own society flat hostel. When contacted, even hospital administration did not come for help and police help had to be sought. In some cases, they were even refused to use lifts, or not allowed come out to buy essential groceries for food. Due to hostile local environment and apathy from the hospital management, MIK had to intervene and provide them with food items.
(c) Low/ No Salary Issues. Some nurses were not paid any salary after their Hospitals were closed. Being in a Metro city, even in normal times, many make their ends meet with difficulty in their months' salary. With no salary, it was becoming very difficult to pay rent and also meet food requirements. Even though they did not want, they had no option but to leave Kolkata in the uncertainty of further income. What else could they have done?
(d) Food Shortage During Quarantine. Some of the Hospital administration were not caring enough to even look after food requirements during quarantine. None of these Nurses are ration card holders and therefore they would normally not listed as beneficiary in local Govt help for immediate help. Manipur Bhawan officials and MIK had to step in to help them.
(e) Working Environment and Professional Issues. Many were unhappy about an unsafe working environment and unresponsive hospital management when projected with their problems. Most Issues were related to inadequate/ inappropriate PPE, masks, gloves, nonstandard safety protocols etc. Many felt that they are compromising the patients' and their own safety. On occasions they had to forgo meals and even delay calls of nature to avoid removing PPEs and reusing the same mask. Their repeated grievances were not redressed adequately. In some hospitals, nurses complain of unfair distribution of the duties. Here, it is pertinent to note that, in hospitals where management were supportive and prompt in redressing the concerns, no one has left from such hospital. Tata Medical Centre at New Town is one such example.
(f) Personal Safety and Security. Most nurses were sharing hostel rooms, upto 8-10 occupants in a room. After Covid-19 Cases, there were no segregation of Covid nurses transportation and accommodation. They opined that this had created a situation where infection could easily spread amongst the hostel inmates. Some also complained of water problems and lack of other basic amenities essential to maintain basic personal hygiene. They also complained hospitals not supporting them with Covid-19 tests etc when requested.
(g) Landlord/Accommodation Issues: There were few cases where the landlords were not supportive and became uncomfortable to stay. Finding a new accommodation were not possible due to pandemic.
(h) Mental Health and Depression: In some cases, the social discrimination, work pressure, financial issues with no pay, lack of food items, emotional isolation and an insensitive management led to emotional imbalances and depressions. This had weakened their resolve to continue to work here in Kolkata. MIK had organised multiple zoom video counselling meetings to reach out to them with positive results. All they require was an emotional reassurance from management or anyone that, if things go bad, they have something to lean on and a shoulder to cry.
(i) Pre-planned Leave. Some cases were related to already pre-approved leave and could not cone back due lock down. Few were preplanned resignation due to pressing personal issues not related to Covid-19 at all.
(j) Parental Anxiety/ Pressure: In the light of all the above reasons, mostly social, salary, food & safety issues with a backdrop of a bleak chance of the situation improving, it is absolutely natural that, the parents back home in Manipur were the most worried lot. The major concern was safety and security of their children. The uncertainty of the future & fruitfulness of their wards continuing to stay at Kolkata, obviously became a big question mark. Many parents thus advised their wards to come home for safety reasons.
5. Silver Lining & Welcome Steps Taken: We are thankful to TOI, local vernacular, for initiating part of our story. As a consequence, few hospitals, ie, Institute of Neurosciences Kolkata, Medica Superspecialty Hospital, RSV Hospital Tollygunge etc have started initiating very positive corrective welfare measures by reaching out to the Nurses. These are very positive development in the right direction. We sincerely hope all other hospitals managements will address all bugging issues ASAP. The nurses are not definitely demanding the moon but a basic safety and security needs. A conducive environment to work, salary enough to meet ends, and safe place to stay with no social discrimination. Most of the social issues can be overcome by proper sensitizing and support from general public and prompt police help whenever required. If the working environment is comfortable and one feels safe and secure, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to leave. Manipuri Nurses at Kolkata, always remain dedicated and committed to serving the people of West Bengal in their healthcare services. Jai Hind.
(The author is retired Gp Capt Kshetrimayum Shyamkesho Singh, president Manipuris in Kolkata-MIK)