IN what is becoming a recurring trend, disgruntled government employees — dissatisfied with their service structure, pay, perks, etc — take to the streets to protest against the authorities. Sometimes the protests are peaceful, but often run-ins with the law enforcers can be violent. In the recent past, ‘young’ doctors, nurses and government teachers have all staged protests. On Thursday, nurses working in Sindh’s public-sector hospitals squared off against police in Karachi as the former tried to march on Chief Minister House. The nurses had been protesting in front of the local press club for around two weeks, and on Thursday, accompanied by PTI lawmakers and activists, they decided to march on Chief Minister House to press for their demands. However, what ensued was an ugly scene as the nurses and their supporters grappled with police. Television footage and pictures captured by the media show a battle royal being fought in Karachi’s so-called red zone. The police unleashed their batons on the protesters, while water cannons were also used to push back the nurses. Though the Sindh chief minister later ordered all detained nurses to be released, it is unfortunate that the melee occurred in the first place.
Thursday’s events point to something bigger: a trust deficit between the state and the people it employs. Nurses had also protested a few months earlier, while teachers were baton-charged in March. True, not all the demands of protesting government employees are genuine — and the suffering caused to poor patients by doctors’ and nurses’ strikes is a matter of considerable concern. Nevertheless, it is the state’s job to engage with disgruntled employees and ensure that matters don’t reach a point of no return. Moreover, it is the democratic right of workers to stage peaceful protests, and law enforcers must use non-violent crowd-control tactics in case demonstrations take a violent turn. Unleashing batons is totally unacceptable and will only aggravate matters; the state must resolve the grievances of its employees at the negotiating table.
Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2019