Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Nurses of Kerala: The Unsung Heroines

Some years back, i was invited to give the keynote address at the graduating ceremony of nursing students. As usual, i went with a well prepared speech. But i hadn’t bargained for the intense solemnity of the occasion, and when my turn came to speak, i couldn’t. I was overwhelmed by the sight of the forty odd graduating nurses dressed in white, looking up at me expectantly, seriously. I suddenly felt a lump in my throat and i found myself questioning my locus standi. My position on the rostrum implied the possession of a level of wisdom and a certain degree of competence which qualified me to advise these young ladies who had made a conscious decision to do God’s own work on earth. I felt humble and wholly inadequate all on sudden. My well prepared speech suddenly looked hollow and lacking in auchitya.

My extended silence must have puzzled the audience comprising the graduating students, and members of the management running the nursing school. I could have reeled out the well crafted speech but something wouldn’t let me. On an impulse, i took the audience into confidence. I told them about my predicament. Now i don’t remember the details of the speech, but i do know that whatever i told them came straight from my heart. And the feeling uppermost in me then was a sense of awe at the nobility of those young ladies who chose a life of sacrifice in the service of mankind in pain.

Recently, i had the occasion to go to the Heart Hospital in Bandra. Almost all the nurses there were from kerala. The patients were raving about them, their efficiency, their dedication and friendly nature. I felt proud of belonging to the state they hailed from.

The contribution of these women to the famous kerala model cannot be overrated. I wonder if we in Kerala realise and acknowledge the role of these professionals in enhancing the economic condition of the state. The Diaspora of our women nurses not only to other parts of India, but to all parts of the planet has brought economic stability to a huge number of families across the state. Many of these families would have gone under in those difficult days of social change when land failed to support them, and unemployment was rampant. Young women from traditional families trained themselves for this noble profession and went far and wide to serve humanity and bring income to their struggling families.

I do not know if the heavy contribution of this category of women is officially acknowledged. I do not know if statistics are available to see how many families have prospered on the hard-earned money of these heroines.

And women taking up the nursing profession is not a recent phenomenon. The trend had started long before independence and increased geometrically after that. When times were bad for the once moderately landed gentry in the interiors of kerala, the brave young daughters took upon themselves the onus of taking care of the families. They did not leave it to the males as was the tradition in the heavily patriarchal society of kerala. They chose not to languish in overprotection that the society decrees for women. Instead they decided to stand shoulder to shoulder with the sons to find a profession for themselves and sustenance for the families.

Today nurses from Kerala are a much sought after category, thanks to these women’s exemplary performance in this field for several decades. The profession has become not only very lucrative, but also a launching pad to go abroad. This has attracted males also to this profession and there is a marked increase in men taking up nursing as a profession in kerala.

Kudos to our superwomen, and big thank you from us in Kerala.


  1. Apart from the encomiums that they rightfully deserve , the back room scene is that this is also one of the most disrespected profession and also they are an abused lot.

  2. Hi teresiamma ..nice post on the most dominated profession in Kerala.I have seen and met and also experienced the hospitality of a lot of nurses ,most of whom were from kerala.I always felt they were good at their work.But I always wonder why only keralites opt for this profession mostly?

  3. I agree to most of the points you have raised.But there is a sad side to it.I don't think there is any other profession which has been so much stigmatized.People smile at them and befriend them when they are at the hospital,but outside,they publicly denounce them.Very few show the willingness to get married to them,but for their money.Their character has been so much criticized,it is as if they don't have one.
    The job itself is difficult.Who would carry the all the shit and urine of strangers,just for some money?.When I put my finger in to someone's behind for an examination,I have wondered if others would do it for a million rupees!At least,doctors get money,nurses do not even get that.
    Who respects them? I am yet to see any one.

  4. Not only Nurses but a few years back before the advent of computers in India, Kerala women used to travel far & wide to work as Typists in Government offices.

  5. very true....
    Thank you for visiting my blogs...!!

  6. @Kochuthresiamma Don't get me wrong. Nursing is a very good profession to go into. And yes they deserve a lot of respect. Except I always dreamed to be a doctor since I was 10 years old. I was visiting a cousin in Allepy. Cousin was injured in a accident, so was sent to the hospital. I was there, and I was watching how the doctors were treating him. At the same time, one of the doctors was explaining to me on what you do as a doctor. All the different kind of medications, was soooo interesting. I just was interested and wanted to be one then. I then worked hard to get that goal, got high marks..etc. But my parents said no, I have to be a nurse and was forced into it. And am a nurse still. I am working in the US, and I like it being a nurse here..don't know in India though. But I still wish I was a doctor. Whenever I talk to a doctor at the hospital, I was always think how lucky they are that they get to have the career they dreamed.

  7. Good on you to write about Nurses and nursing profession. The stigma and stuff mentioned here is damn right but most aren't bothered about it. Those who talk sh1t are just going on about it due to wishful thinking; an image propagated by films and serials. If you look at it closely, any class of working women are prejudiced and put down by our society.

    I do believe things are changing in India. I'm a Nurse myself, but haven't worked in Indian hospital settings except when I was being trained in Trivandrum MC. In Ireland and in Aus, where I'm now, nurses are respected and payed on par with the creme jobs in society. The scope of job and the work environment in million times better and satisfying than anywhere in India. The issue at home is that the authorities, society and the nurses themselves have silently acknowledged that "Nurses dont need respect", so the fate of the profession remains unchanged.

    But ma'm I'm happy to be a Nurse, and proud to say that. Hugely responsible and challenging, I enjoy that. Thanks for your essay, appreciate the thoughts. :-)

  8. Guess when you talk about Kerala nurses, it reflects the nature of the Kerala women as a whole :)

    This truth dawned upon me when I sought more information on female foeticide. I realized that the % of female foeticide is less in Kerala as compared to other states in India, and this could be because girls are seldom considered as liabilities but as an asset even if the burden of dowry was present. Kerala girls always found means to stand on her feet. The women in Kerala enjoyed a good position in the society for some reasons.. and one reason could be the Matriarchal system followed by many. (This could be one reason why men found it easier to let their women folks out of the house? )
    Education and economic development alone could not be the reason since then Punjab would not show such dismal figures when it comes to female foeticide.
    Study also shows that the % of women in the tertiary sector is higher, compared to other states and it would have been be even higher if Kerala's pace of development was at par with it's pace in education.
    Those Kerala women who could not find work in Kerala would have moved out to other places and in the olden days nursing was a profession which could be taken up with lesser preparation.. i.e education or training. Of course, it has changed now with the advent of degree and PG in nursing and also because of the advance in the medical field itself.

  9. @blogger friends
    Please don't misunderstand my question'who respects them?'
    I was demanding more respect for nurses than none.Being a doctor,I know their difficulties and the sacrifices they make.Most of the nurses at the hospital where I work are Malayalis.The working conditions here are no where near that in the US or UK.The profession itself is well respected in those places.
    In India, a lot has to change.Why is it that we still find Kerala nurses in the rest of India? Knowing very well that there are employment opportunities,still people are reluctant to send their children.There was a time like that Germany too.But now,you cannot find a single nursing student there from India.
    The reason why they don't take up nursing career elsewhere is because of the tough nature of the job.They don't want to do the night jobs and shifts and the kind of personal care stuff.But our reason is the social stigma attached to it.
    That is the thing to be got rid of.


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