Kerala nurse, transferred for standing by sexual assault survivor, reinstated after protests

A nurse has been forced to resort to protest after facing disciplinary action and an unjust transfer for standing up for an assualt victim.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Apr 07, 2024 | 9:49 AMUpdatedApr 07, 2024 | 9:49 AM

Kozhikode GMCH. (Linkedin)

In a stark contradiction to the Kerala government’s claims of prioritising healthcare workers’ welfare and their grievances, a troubling incident in Kozhikode exposes the gaping chasm between rhetoric and reality.

A senior nursing officer, PB Anitha, had been forced to resort to protest after facing disciplinary action and an unjust transfer, simply for standing in solidarity with a woman who was sexually assaulted at the ICU of Kozhikode Government Medical College Hospital (GMCH).

Leaving her in protest mode was also the development that despite a court order mandating her reinstatement, Anitha’s attempts to resume her duties at the medical college have been met with resistance from authorities.

Those who came out in support of Anitha, including the survivor of the ICU sexual assault incident, said that despite purported assurances of support and protection for frontline workers, the harsh reality paints a different picture — one marred by injustice and disregard for those who dare to speak out against wrongdoing.

With protests brewing from various quarters and the issue being projected by the Congress and the BJP in their election campaigning, the government seems to have relented.

On Saturday, 6 April, the Director of Medical Education (DME) released an order reinstating Anitha to Kozhikode GMCH. She told the media that she will end her ongoing protest but added that she will continue her legal fight. The contempt petition is expected to be considered by the court on Monday and the order might have came against this backdrop.

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The case details

The infamous sexual assault incident inside the ICU of GMCH occurred on 18 March, 2023. It is said that a woman was allegedly assaulted by an attendee in the ICU while she was under sedation following a thyroid surgery.

As the survivor filed a complaint against the assaulter, some women employees of the GMCH approached her and tried to persuade her to withdraw the complaint. Anitha is said to have reported this to the concerned authorities and the women employees were suspended. The nursing officer also reiterated her stance, supporting the survivor, before a special inquiry commission and the police.

However, she along with two others — the chief nursing officer and nursing superintendent — got transferred as part of a disciplinary action.

According to Health Minister Veena George, it was based on the report of an inquiry at the level of the DME that disciplinary action was initiated.

“It was based on the survivor’s demand that the government initiated a DME-level inquiry. In that, some were found guilty of dereliction of duty. Disciplinary action was also initiated against them. The only intention of the government was to ensure justice to the survivor,” sad Veena in a statement issued on 5 April.

It was on 18 January that Anitha was relieved from the Kozhikode GMCH. She was re-posted to Idukki GMCH based on a Government Order dated 16 January.

While those who faced disciplinary action along with Anitha returned to Kozhikode GMCH armed with a stay order from the Kerala Administrative Tribunal, Anitha couldn’t make it.

The government was of the stance that there is no vacancy available at Kozhikode GMCH as another person from Thiruvananthapuram has been posted there. Against this, Anitha approached the Kerala High Court.

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Court’s directions

In an order dated 1 March, the division bench comprising Justices A Muhamed Mustaque and Shoba Annamma Eapen observed that in the order transferring her to Idukki, it was mentioned that Anitha gave a contradictory statement. However, the order does not disclose what the contradictory statement was.

“No one has a case that the petitioner conducted herself warranting any disciplinary action. The transfer itself appears to have been an offshoot of an ongoing inquiry. When the petitioner has been transferred from Medical College, Kozhikode to Medical College, Idukki, it implies that it is not for any administrative exigency but by way of punishment, that too, without conducting any proper inquiry,” reads an excerpt from the judgement.

The division bench then set aside the said order and asked the Government Pleader to check whether any vacancy was likely to arise in the Kozhikode GMCH.

It was then submitted that with effect from 1 April, the vacancy would arise. Accordingly, the court directed the government to post the petitioner at Kozhikode GMCH in the vacancy that will arise on 1 April.

The court also made it clear that the order mentioning transfer citing disciplinary action shall not reflect in the service record of Anitha as an adverse finding or report.

However, when Anitha arrived at the Kozhikode GMCH on 1 April she was not allowed to rejoin. It is said that the hospital authorities cited the absence of directions from the concerned to re-admit her.

Against the division bench order, the state government had also filed a revision petition. Citing contempt of court, Anitha has also approached the court.

Both the petitions are expected to be considered by the high court on Monday.

(Edited by Kamna Revanoor)