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Victoria Anita: a Flower from the sands of the Thal- A story of rebellion against religiously biased mindsets

Victoria Anita

Victoria Anita is a Christian woman who divided the people of Layyah into two when she refused to step down from the post of Principal School of Nursing amidst allegations related to her religious beliefs. Layyah, a city of 500.000 people, is located in the heart of Thal desert in Pakistan, which shares its modest health services with 1000 nearby villages. The forced removal from her post came during the height of the cities problems with homelessness related to the recent floods and the refusal of student nurses to treat the patients in the subsequent influx at the start of autumn 2010.

Victoria was an unrelenting and impeccable teacher when it came to following the rules of the Pakistan Nursing Council and stood on her principles when threatened to be fired due to failure to compliance with the personal ‘requests’ of the District Head Quarters top officials. She was asked to sign the licenses of three community midwives who had failed to prove their competency at handling patients in practical examination. The license would have entitled them access to government funds enabling them to open a health care unit in their respective villages. “We are here to save lives; we cannot afford to risk the lives of patients,” she shared her concern. “The second difference which emerged was being asked by the top hospital official to permit the students to keep mobile phones which violate both PNC rules and hospital rules,” she argued. “I am not the person who will bend the rules.”

The allegations against her started the moment she was appointed as the principal of the Layyah School of Nursing, one of the small town’s few prominent institutes. In a country where a woman (legally) is half a citizen, belonging to a religious minority group is an additional challenge. But Victoria shows no mercy to people who wrongfully accused her of trafficking girls to senior government officials, and has knocked on the doors of the Punjab high court to prove her innocence. "I am not going to succumb to these dirty tricks and pressure," she said while explaining how she chose not resign or hide after receiving death threats for allegedly forcing the Muslim girls at the Nursing school to read from the Bible.

“I am choosing to live like an example for the many young women who are victimized due to their beliefs, we [religious minorities] are suffering for our integrity and straightforward attitude but still serve this country diligently” her tone changed from stern to nostalgic. But she remains the woman who is not afraid to speak out against her opponents who have no proof for their allegations. The student nurses decided to continue the sit-in after Victoria was asked to temporarily go on a leave. This offended some people of Layyah who demonstrated in the streets against the decision, splitting the town into two groups, further highlighting the issue of removal on the basis of religious discrimination. It even instigated extremist elements to come in action and demand that the Christian principal be killed!

I met Victoria at several occasions during the series of strikes and have witnessed her calm behaviour as she stood up for her viewpoint, refusing to compromise the rules of PNC. A devout Christian, she said she is not afraid to die; “I strongly believe in my Jesus, and I believe that he is my sole supporter, I show up alone in the court room which surprises the judge and I tell him that I am here with my God, I have no one else with me,” she said with a rare radiant smile on her face. “There could be delays, but it will work out.”

Talking to me over a cup of desi tea, she recalled her first day in office where she overheard the word 'churhi' being used in a remark. Churhi is a degrading term still used for Christians, referring to them as the lowest caste. “I was placed there based on my qualification, experience and honesty,” Victoria told me. “It is a small town and we face constant shortages of teaching staff as no one wants to be transferred to Layyah, but we still manage to give 100% result,” she said in a complaining voice. Victoria, now in her late 40s, did not get married due to her commitments in the family. She is the middle child of her missionary parents and her 11 siblings today are all educated and well settled in their lives. Her mother, a housewife, was an inspiration as she managed to send all her children to school and instill in them values like truth, righteousness and justice. This is why she feels her mission is to fight for this cause and she is not concerned about saving her neck or job.

Today, the matter is in high court. Victoria is hindered from pursuing the case, her salary has been stopped, gets harassed and receives anonymous phone calls. She remains strong, boldly ignoring the knocks on her windows in the middle of the night. “I was appointed as the head of the Nursing School in June 2008 and have been implicated and proved innocent in eight inquiries since! I have to pay the price of living in a country where religious freedom is still a myth. If I am destined to die fighting, I am ready for it!” she ends with a determined voice and a positive tone.

Victoria opened her home to the Christian students who faced discrimination and were refused protection while residing in the nursing hostel. Advocating for equality, she urges these women to not succumb to the manipulative elements that suppress their rights. She remains a source of inspiration for the Christian nursing students who are looked down upon by their fellow students in Layyah. Victoria is also raising voice at many different human rights platforms like HRCP through her writings to shed light on the intolerance and inequality faced by the Christian nurses in remote places.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Civil society members protesting against the nurses' sit-in

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Comments

vivian's picture

Your woman is a strong and

Your woman is a strong and courageous woman. She is a fighter for justice and I love her saying “I strongly believe in my Jesus, and I believe that he is my sole supporter,

She is a christian indeed and Jesus will never fail her because He never fails.

Well done. My regards to her.

Vivian

''Every woman have a story at every stage of Life''

Iffat Gill's picture

Thank you Vivian for reading

Thank you Vivian for reading & posting a comment. Indeed the religious minorities who constantly face discrimination and harsh treatment find hope and strength from their faith. Victoria is lucky to have a supportive family who is not forcing her to withdraw her case as is the norm here. Very inspiring, her courage and strength.

Best,

Iffat Gill

SLaw's picture

Thank you for sharing

Thank you for sharing Victoria's story and bringing much-needed attention to the issue of religious freedom. It is an issue that seems to only come to the fore when something extreme happens--mass killings, violent conflict, or wrongful imprisonment. Victoria is a strong, courageous woman and I pray that true justice prevails in her case.

Good job on your writing, too! You write very clearly and concisely. Best of luck as you commence Module 2!

Iffat Gill's picture

Thank you for your comment.

Thank you for your comment. Appreciate it. There has been stories of wrongful imprisonments and killings, even staking to death but since these incidents go unreported, it is not easy to assess the damage that has been done by intolerant and extremist elements. When I was covering this issue back in September, there were serious threats to the safety of the Christian community. Indeed, Victoria is very brave to continue the fight.

Best,

Iffat Gill

Potter's picture

A Brave Profile

Rose, You have written a very brave profile of a very brave woman. Her dedication to her principles and ethics is inspirational. What courage! Thanks for sharing her experience with all of us. Will you be able to keep us posted on Victoria's case? I'm sure the entire World Pulse community is joined in hoping for a just resolution.

Iffat Gill's picture

Dear Jana, I have been

Dear Jana,

I have been following the case with great interest and have written about the general situation of the minorities' in Layyah as well. Would love to post update on the progress. I am also planning to work for the disadvantaged women in the said town next year and will be closely following this and similar stories hopefully. Thank you for taking time to read and comment.

Best,

Iffat Gill

jadefrank's picture

Dear Rose, Thank for both

Dear Rose,

Thank for both sharing Victoria's courageous leadership with us, but also bringing the issue of religions minority persecution in Pakistan to our attention. This is a topic that I rarely read about in the news, and it is eye-opening to learn about the struggles of religious minorities in your country, especially through the story of a someone like Victoria who demonstrates both the issue of persecution, as well as the leadership of women to stand up for their integrity.

Beautiful piece Rose!

Love,
Jade

Iffat Gill's picture

Thanks Jade. Indeed, these

Thanks Jade. Indeed, these stories do not get much space in the news and these communities are struggling to get their message to the world. I hope their is a decision on Victoria's case soon.

Best.

Iffat Gill

Mursal Hamraz's picture

Dear Rose,

Thanks for sharing the story of brave Victoria. I was really stimulated with her braveness for rejecting the illusion and getting side of the truth. This is what we should do to stop the unwise people from desiring and willing to do more corruption. Regarding the point of religious minorities, it is really regrettable to see that people try to segregate and discriminate the minority identities in their community. We should respect the ways people choose to live their lives whether it is based on religion or any other things. I am really happy for Victoria for struggling against this issue, and I wish her success to prove that whether minority or majority, we all are the same and should not be discriminated or disregarded.
Best wishes,

Mursal

Iffat Gill's picture

Thanks for taking time to

Thanks for taking time to read the post Mursal. Looking forward to read more stories of brave women change-makers from Afghanistan.

Best wishes.

Iffat Gill

Farona's picture

What a strong women Layyah is

What a strong women Layyah is !
When I read she was a nurse and belongs to a religious minority - I was sure she perhaps was accused was preaching to young girls...and Alas! that was one of the accusations.
I am amazed how she manages to keep all the intimidation at bay and still continue with her noble work. Anyone who has strong faith will never falsely accuse/harass someone from another religion - those who do this are neither good muslims or good citizen, truly a bunch of self-seeking individuals

Good job in shedding light to her story, Rose !

Iffat Gill's picture

Thanks for the comment

Thanks for the comment Farona.

Best wishes.

Iffat Gill

Nusrat Ara's picture

Layyah is a brave woman but

Layyah is a brave woman but we need to rally behind her. I mean people should try to help as much as possible. Sometimes a simple pat on a back can do wonders.

Love

Nusrat

Iffat Gill's picture

Hi Nusrat, Indeed, Victoria

Hi Nusrat,

Indeed, Victoria from Layyah is a very brave woman and I admire her for taking this struggle against oppression forward. Thank you for reading and for your comment.

Best wishes.

Iffat Gill

WILDKat's picture

Layyah-freedom first

Human hearts cry out for connection and your story of Layyah pulls mine to truth, righteousness and justice for Pakistani Christians. You clearly show her unwavering bravery in the face of prejudice. I pray for Pakistanis recovering from the devastating floods. Thank you, Nusrat for telling Layyah's story.

Naturally grateful,
Kat Haber

"Know thyself." ~ Plato

Iffat Gill's picture

Dear Kat

Thank you very much for reading the story of Victoria from Layyah. I will keep you guys posted on the progress.
Happy holidays!

Best.

Iffat Gill

Iffat Gill's picture

And thanks to Nusrat for

And thanks to Nusrat for sharing this story.

Iffat Gill

Alice Kero Wood's picture

Victoria from Layyah

Very nice article, Rose. I could sense the passion that an apostle would have for being a follower of Christ. Keep up the good work.

Alice Kero Wood

Iffat Gill's picture

Thank you for reading and

Thank you for reading and commenting on my piece Alice. Appreciate it.

Best.

Iffat Gill

Vera Salter's picture

Your writing

Rose, Thank you for your powerful and inspirational writing! Love Vera

Iffat Gill's picture

:)

Dear Vera,

Really appreciate your comment. I am glad you read the profile. Thank you.

Best.

Iffat Gill

mrbeckbeck's picture

Very compelling piece

Rose, wow! Nice work. Victoria surely has an interesting story, and you've done so well at presenting it here for us.

I was fascinated as I was reading this, thinking about all the challenges she's confronted with determination and grace. The situation is really intriguing... that if she would have approved a few women's certifications, this would not have happened? Why did the leadership want those women to pass even though they didn't?? And to think that nurses won't treat male patients... are male nurses being recruited and trained to fill this gap?

I'm really looking forward to reading more about this story from you. Thanks for this profile to show us a new perspective.

Happy New Year!
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

Iffat Gill's picture

Hi Scott

Thanks for reading and for the questions. True, if she had signed on the certificates, (which did get signed anyway when she was on a leave) she would have gotten less of a hostile reaction from the seniors and the people who incited the students to demand Victoria's removal would have to think of another plan. As she told me, there had always been conspiracies and scheming going on against her, because she belonged to a certain faith. The incident of her not signing did make things somewhat easier for her opponents.

Up until the time of writing, there was no male nurse in District Hospital Layyah and the female staff has to treat the male patients despite of their cultural norms. There only nursing school in Layyah district is a for femaes only and they did not get any male students requests as the job is associated with being woman's job only in most remote areas. There is a facility to train male nurses in bigger cities but the male nurses then prefer to work in cities. It is a big challenge which is yet to be touched by the authorities. Most people who I know, that studied male nursing were the ones who wanted to go work abroad where they get attractive salaries as they think there is no scope for the field in Pakistan. at first, the stereotype of associating the job with women needs to be addressed and then they can train/recruit more male nurses to address to fill the gap.

I am looking at my profile with a new perspective as well, as I was not even thinking about this element at that point.
Thanks!

Iffat Gill

Maura Conlon's picture

I learned so much from your story

Rose,
Your profile of Victoria Anita is an amazing testimony to a woman's strength, especially a woman serving in such a visible leadership position. You capture so well her clear intention about upholding high integrity for the nursing profession, opportunities for women, and for the acceptance of the 'religious minority' in the area. I hope everything turns out well for her. I hope people from all sides of the equation (different genders and different religions) can learn from this situation. I wonder if there is any group/organization who can help advocate for Ms. Anita as she's now barred from doing that herself?

A few of your sentences struck me and I'll share them here: "In a country where a woman (legally) is half a citizen, belonging to a religious minority group is an additional challenge." That sentence says so much! It says so much about the fight ahead for womens' equality & how religious prejudice slows progress -- it also underscores the importance of leaders like Ms. Anita. Nothing ever changes until there is somebody like her to inspire transformation! Also her quote: " I am choosing to live like an example for the many young women who are victimized due to their beliefs, we [religious minorities] are suffering for our integrity and straightforward attitude but still serve this country diligently." To be of service to others with such high standards speaks to human compassion. Ms. Anita certainly embodies the essence of love for other people -- certainly it sounds as if Layyah and the surrounding area is fortunate to have her in their midst.

This profile gives all of us courage. Thank you for your powerful work and for helping us understand more about this situation in Pakistan. Victoria Anita is a flower indeed! (Like you -- with the name 'Rose' !)

Warm best,
Maura

Maura Conlon-McIvor, Ph.D
author, founder and social change psychologist
legacybeyondborders.com
celebrate life/tell your story/live your heart's legacy
mauraconlon.com

Iffat Gill's picture

Oops, I think I posted a

Oops, I think I posted a reply to your comment as a separate comment.

Iffat Gill

Iffat Gill's picture

Dear Maura

Dear Maura,

Thank you for reading my article and for the wonderful analysis of it. Appreciate the depth at which you see the underlying factors of Victoria's story. Her next court hearing is in mid-January. I got her in touch with a few human rights organization at a personal level. Right now I am in a process of designing a project plan to mainstream the voices of these leaders from rural Pakistan to wider audience through the use of modern ICTs and Web 2.0. The process is lengthy as we have to find a way to build the capacity of these women so that they can air their views without worrying about the biases of the local media. In Layyah there is no such existing organization which can take up the case apart from the individual HRCP members who are giving her their full support.

We hope to give basic trainings on the use of ICTs to women leaders like Victoria in coming three months in Layyah. I will be posting about the progress as soon as we have something concrete about the next steps. Thank you for all your support and encouragement.

Best wishes.

Iffat Gill

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