As the “Nightingales” head home

The morning news today brought a sigh of relief for all Indians !  The forty six young  nurses from Kerala who had been held hostage in the war ridden zone of Iraq were finally home bound!! Result of  brilliant diplomacy by our new External Affairs Minister! Hats off to her and her team…!! A special Air India flight brought  the nurses and all the Indians stranded in Iraq home -all the way to Cochin! 
 But somehow, the images of these girls at Erbil airport did not seem to reflect the euphoria that the rest of the country was feeling!! I am continually haunted by the image of one  girl who was resting her head in her hands and looking down. Was it my imagination or was it a reflection of something more than the stress that they had all been through?  I was wondering what kind of welcome they would receive when they finally reached home?

The entire hostage drama as we know has been on for more than two weeks now.  Questions like “Why did the nurses not leave when it was possible” ? “Why did they wait for evacuation?” constantly keep coming up.  I think the answer is more than  about  error in judgment about the rightness of the time to leave!!  If you remember the news bulletins, the question of them not having received their salaries was constantly being brought up as one of the reasons.  In my opinion that is THE reason!!

Most of the nurses had taken huge loans to finance their trip to Iraq and they were not leaving in a hurry without realizing what they had risked their lives for.  I would say this was also the reason why  the construction workers  at the collapsed building site at Porur in Chennai probably agreed to work without protective gear…!! It is one of the hard realities about being a migrant worker!!! You just do not have a choice about the conditions that you will be working in.  You leave home in search of employment because your economic conditions are bad. The extent of migration is an indicator of the development ( or lack of it ) of a region. If people could find good employment in their towns and villages, there would be no migration. 

But the issue of Kerala is a bit more complicated - especially when it comes to nurses.  Most of the nurses come from a certain community where family sizes are large and dowry very high. In a state where women outnumber men, it is always a challenge for them to get married. So girls have two options – to embrace religion  remaining unwed for the rest of their lives or earn their dowries by moving out of the state. Iraq is just one location where girls from Kerala  who are qualified as nurses go to. We can find them across India and the world working in the hospitals saving money for their marriage or that of their sisters, financing a brother’s education or repairing the family home. 

While migration and the politics of “money order” economies have their own complexities, the way single female migration is viewed  by society is usually unfair and unjust with respect to the migrant.  Unlike male migration  or entire family migration , a single woman migration is colored by Patriarchal value systems which are very unjust. I am told by friends from Kerala that families which have such young women as members are often looked down upon!!!   (I can almost hear them saying “ Good families protect their unmarried daughters and their virginities. They don’t  send them away to foreign countries alone to earn money. God knows what these girls must be  up to “ ). 

In Gender studies, female mobility is often used as an indicator for empowerment! But this indicator becomes a fallacy in cases like this where a woman’s mobility is also an indicator of her dis empowerment. She leaves home not because she wants to but because she has to!!!  This is often her only ticket out of spinsterhood or becoming a nun!!  She earns money, fulfills her family’s financial commitments and gets married to a man selected by them paying his “market rate” in terms of cash that has been earned by her and sometimes goes back to the difficult conditions abroad because the husband may be unable to support her. She exchanges one set of shackles for another !! Practices such as these also make me question the value of education and the role it plays in the so called empowerment of women!! 

If education and a vocational skill cannot give a woman the ability to make her own decisions about whether or not or how much of burden to take on in terms of what her family demands or what society expects of her then it is really a failure. It is no wonder that despite being the state with the highest number of female literates, Kerala continues to have high degree of crimes against women and social evils like dowry thrive. 

Signing this off in the hope that these girls get the hero’s welcome they deserve when they get  back home. I hope there are no long faces or talks about the unpaid loans or any snide remarks about what might have been the “price” that they might have had to pay for their freedom. I sincerely hope that these young women do not have to ever go back to such dangerous situations and that when they get married it is not to “Jesus” but to a man appreciates the courageous woman who has come in as his partner. 

 Kudos to you ladies…!!! Florence Nightingale would have been proud of you


  1. This made for a sad reading.I had also felt the same when I saw their glum faces.The burden of loan and ability to discharge must be weighing on them heavily.Nursing is a dignified and noble job and most of these girls/women do their job sincerely.Imagine hospitals without adequate qualified nurses.The one lesson to be drawn is to avoid places however lucrative where there is potential for turmoil.I sincerely hope the big corporate hospitals in our country come forward to offer them positions immediately.Even governments can help in this regard.The bane of dowry is another issue that must be tackled with iron hand.

  2. I was reporting it...2200 Indians are sill trapped in war torn country. There are still nurses who could not return as they the hospital authorities are yet to give back their certificates. Surprisingly, for the 46 nurses who returned on Sunday, the insurgents never misbehaved with them. Many of them refused to call them terrorists. They called nurses their sisters and their enmity is not towards them, they are just fighting for their country....

  3. The most prominent question is : What will happen to these nurses who have huge financial burden on their shoulders.

  4. @ KP Our corporate hospitals cannot accommodate all nurses looking for employment and as long as there are social compulsions we will see them traveling far away from home.

    @ Shalet Jimmy welcome to my blog. The nurses were lucky or are they saying something that they would like the world to believe?

  5. There are some doubts some lingering. The way they answered every questions, it appeared as they were tutored beforehand....


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