Aashiq Abu's latest directorial venture 'Virus' is touted as a survival thriller that captures the strenuous efforts of the government as well as the public to contain the Nipah virus outbreak in Kozhikode last year. Several characters in the film carry evident resemblence to people, including ministers, doctors and nurses, who were part of the team that fought back the unpreedented outbreak of the virus.
While it is easy to identify state health minister Shailaja in the character played by Revathy or late nurse Lini in Rima Kallingal, there are some characters who represent the many nameless people who volunteered to participate in the fight against Nipah, out of compulsion and a sense of commitment. Babu, a medical attender played by Joju George, is one among them. Babu offers selfless service during the virus attack believing the promise of the medical college superintendent that the services of those who volunteer to serve during Nipah onslaught would be made permanent.
The movie ends on a positive note, suggesting that the promise was kept. However, Babu's real-life counterparts have a different story to tell. Forty-seven temporary employees at the Government Medical College Hospital here, who displayed exemplary courage during the onslaught of the Nipah virus, have been asked to leave.
The staff - including seven nurses, 10 nursing assistants and 30 cleaning staff - are on a hunger strike in front of the Government Medical College Hospital - the focal point of the fight against the disease last year.
Kozhikode MP M K Raghavan is also observing a hunger strike along with them in the same venue, after talks with health minister K K Shailaja failed to reach any consensus.
Earlier this week, opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala held discussions with the minister to solve the issue.
She reiterated that the employees who worked at medical college hospital Nipah ward may be given 'continuous' jobs - one contract after the other - but the government cannot guarantee permanent jobs.
Temporary staff action committee leader Dinesh Perumanna said the government was backtracking on the promise made by the minister a year ago, when the staff at the Nipah ward were honoured at Tagore centenary hall here.
“The minister did not say it in writing, but people have heard her, media have recorded her speech. These employees, most of them from very poor background, risked their life to serve here, when the regular staff went on leave. When even the mortuary closed its doors for the dead, they were the ones who cleaned the corpses and the ward. It is clear injustice from the part of the government, if their demands are not met,” Dinesh said.
The temporary employees were specially recruited in the absence of regular staff. Medical college superintendent Dr Sajeeth Kumar had said that the contract was for 89 days starting from May.
Considering their service during the Nipah outbreak at the hospital, it was extended to another 89 days. The superintendent informed that the contract period was again extended to another 60 days.
That was the maximum extension he could grant.
“After reading a newspaper advertisement seeking staff for fever ward, we applied. There were only 12 of us in the beginning, though 36 candidates were selected, when the permanent staff went on mass leave fearing Nipah. This included four nurses, five nursing assistants and three cleaning staff in the beginning. More workers were recruited later, without even checking the documents, because the hospital was in crisis due to staff shortage,” said Mini T, convener of the temporary staff action committee.
Committee members staged a protest in February and after conciliation talks, they were allowed to work in the related institutes like Institute of Maternal and Child Health.
However, this was also temporary, and more than 90 per cent of them are now without jobs.
One of the nurses, Lino Mol, hailing from Thamarassery, who worked from May 23, 2018, till the closure of the isolation ward, said even after talks with the minister, only one of the nurses could get a job.
Even her contract ended on July 6.