Sister Preetha Mary, the Vice Principal of SH Nursing College – a private college based in Cherthala of Alappuzha – was temporarily asked to “abstain from work” on May 13 after complaints of harassment, exploitation, and homophobia came against her.
The complaints include allegations of students being forced to clean the college campus, including the toilets, severe restrictions on movements, and moral policing.
After an inspection by a Board of Inspectors appointed by the Kerala Nurses and Midwives Council (KNMC) last week, it was found that “serious human rights violations” were taking place in the college.
The allegations came to light after a staff nurse, who went to the hospital attached to the nursing college to visit her relative in April, observed the events and approached the admins of the social media page ‘Government Nurses’.
According to a post made on the page on 23 April 2022 about the allegations, the students studying in the college in Alappuzha district were being made to do cleaning jobs in their hospital.
Apart from cleaning the bedside lockers and nurses’ station, the students were also made to clean toilets, wards, and rooms, including the labour wards and the ICU.
The incident was brought to the attention of Kerala Nurses Union (KNU), affiliated to the CITU, who then informed the KNMC. Following this, the KNMC ordered an inspection at the college by a Board of Inspectors, which was done on May 6. A report was submitted to KNMC.
According to a report of the third and fourth-year students’ interaction with Board of Inspectors seen by TNM, the students’ main concerns were that they were “forced to do toilet and bathroom cleaning in surgical ward, theater, and labour ward” and also had to clean the floors, wash basins, bedside cupboards, nurses’ station, and “wash chappals of doctors and other staff".
The report alleges instances of moral-policing and homophobia by Sister Preetha Mary. The report notes that Preetha Mary “alleged there is a homosexual relationship between students when they are standing, walking or talking together", and also attributed wrinkles on uniforms to the same.
Further, the report also states that “jail-like steel bar system” for the students to interact with the parents, and the students neither being allowed to exit the college premises, even on holidays, nor being allowed to stay in their houses.
The inspection team also found that the hostels were very congested without proper ventilation and that the toilets were unhygienic. The food served in the college had also lacked quality and “lizard and screw were found in food (sic)”, the report says.
It is also alleged that if the students refused to do the cleaning work, they had been allegedly verbally abused. If they went home for a holiday, the students were allegedly asked to pay a compensation.
The report also reveals that if the students complained about the congestion in the rooms, were put in a dark room for the rest of the day. The report further observed that the college had been collecting more than the government-mandated cap.
Based on this report, KNMC called for a PTA meeting to be conducted immediately on May 10 stating that “psychological torture and serious violation of human rights were noticed”.
“However, the Vice Principal against whom the allegations are mainly put forth, did not attend the meeting,” said KNU State Secretary Karthik.
He added that when they came to know that students were being harassed, KNU had taken it up to the KNMC.
“Soon after we came to know about the incidents, we enquired into the issue and made sure that we had sufficient evidence to prove the credibility of the allegations. Only after that we had moved to KNMC,” he said.
Regarding the action taken, KNMC President P Usha Devi told TNM that the Vice Principal has been “temporarily kept away” from work. “Further investigation is underway and action will be taken accordingly,” she added.
(Published in an arrangement with The News Minute.)