UNA HISTORY

Birth of United Nurses Association (UNA)

Beena Baby was the daughter daily labourers. They were not in a position to support their daughter who was brilliant in her studies. However she managed to get a BSc. degree in nursing with the support of an education loan. She was offered a job with Asian Heart Hospital by a recruitment agent who promised her Rs 15,000 a month. It was only on joining that she realised that she’d be paid less than half that sum, and that too for working 14-16 hours a day. On such meager wages, she could neither support her family nor repay the education loan. She could not quit the job for a better one as she had to sign a bond with hospital authorities before joining and the hospital demanded Rs 50,000 to release her educational certificates, which it had kept. Beena didn’t have the money. It was this last straw that broke her spirit.

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On the morning of 10 October 2011, Beena Baby, the 22-year-old staff nurse hanged herself in her flat in the suburb of Santa Cruz, a flat that she shared with eight other nurses.The suicide news of Beena very much disturbed Jasmin Sha, a 29-year-old male nurse who had returned home to Kerala after a job stint with a hospital in Qatar. Perturbed by, he called a get-together of nurses, batch mates, friends and acquaintances in Thrissur. In the meeting he made his anger and anguish loud and clear. This was on 12th October; just two days after Beena’s body had been found hanging in Mumbai. Though none of the nurses present knew Beena personally they were all equally upset. Many other nurses called the gathering to express their solidarity.

But it was a distress call from a nurse at a private hospital in Hyderabad that startled them. The nurse said that she was in a debt trap and close to doing what Beena had done. She was, unable to pay back even a single installment of the education loan availed for the nursing course which is now amounted to Rs 10 lakhs. Jasmin and a few friends met the manager of the Canara Bank branch from which she had taken the loan. The manager opened a file and showed them the status of education loans availed by nursing students. There were 46 students in exactly the same dire situation. Stunned by this they took the phone numbers of all 46 nurses and contacted them. Many had given up nursing for ‘better jobs’. Many of the men, for example, had taken to manual labour, rubber tapping and driving auto rickshaws. It was mostly the women nurses, with far fewer job options, who were in distress.

Determined to help, Jasmin started a Facebook community. That is how the United Nurses Association (UNA) came into being. The response was astonishing. In three days, its membership went up to 2,000. Jasmin and his friends registered the association on 16 November, and organised a meeting the next day in Thrissur. The meeting was attended by 136 nurses, some of whom took charge as office bearers. Sudeep Krishnan, one of those who had quit nursing to become a rubber tapper, took on the role of UNA’s general secretary.