It was a moment any parent would have cherished. But when news arrived that their daughters had won the Sarvottam Jeevan Raksha Pathak, the nation’s tribute to their unparalleled courage, the parents of Vineetha P.K. and Remya Rajappan, young nurses who laid down their lives saving their patients from a deadly fire at AMRI Hospitals, Kolkata, the response was different.

It was on December 9, 2011 that the lives of the two families, along with those of many others, changed forever. The two young women, one from Kothanallore and the other from Uzhavoor in the district, could save the lives of eight patients and were trying take another to safety when they collapsed in the inferno. Ninety people had died in the fire. The dreams of their poor families rested on the young shoulders of the two women. Both had dreams of building better houses, and Vineetha had to take care of her ailing mother’s treatment also. Many things happened during the year since their death.

Remya’s family almost completed the work on a new house, and it was on the housewarming day that the news of her being honoured arrived. Vineetha’s family had suffered yet another tragedy when her mother, a kidney patient, passed away last year.

B. Ekbal, activist, hoped the honour received by the two young nurses would bring to focus the larger issue of exploitation of nurses by hospital managements in the country. The reality faced by the nurses swung from the courageous death of the two young girls and the suicide of Beena Baby in Mumbai unable to withstand exploitation. There were more than 15 lakh nurses in India, 13 lakh of them Malayalis. They have contributed not only to the economy of the State but also to the development of the health-care system. Still they were grossly exploited.

Dr. Ekbal said the honour bestowed on the two young nurses would become meaningful if the occasion could be used to highlight the miserable life of the nurses.

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