Irfan Maseeh death case: Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network decry doctors’ alleged negligence

KARACHI: Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network (PDSN), a coalition of over two dozen rights-based civil society organizations has strongly condemned death of Irfan Maseeh, a manual sanitary worker in Umerkot who died in Civil Hospital Umerkot on June 01, 2017 due to criminal negligence by doctors and relevant staff of local Municipal Committee.

Irfan 28, an employee of the local municipal committee had dived into a deep manhole to clear the gutter line but fell unconscious inside the manhole. His other three colleagues Yaqoob Masih, Faisal and Shaukat who also went inside one by one to rescue Irfan, all fell unconscious due to inhaling a poisonous gas. They all were rescued by people in the area and rushed to Civil Hospital Umerkot where doctors refused to provide medical treatment and asked to get him bathed before they can touch his body. Irfan passed away in hospital without treatment while other colleague sanitary workers were referred to Karachi hospital on emergency basis where Yaqoob Maseeh is still in serious condition in National Hospital Karachi.

PDSN representatives Dr. Sono Khangharani, Pirbhulal and Zulfiqar Shah in a joint statement released here on Sunday said that they are saddened to know the attitude of local doctors and local authorities, which clearly demonstrate discrimination meted out to low caste Christians and Hindus.

“This is not a simple accidental death. This is a clear case of caste and descend based discrimination, which is yet to be criminalized in Pakistan,” said the statement. “People are discriminated on the basis of what they do and refusal of emergency medical treatment on the basis of someone being polluted must be considered a criminal offence,” they added.

PDSN office bearers said though they appreciate the efforts of Sindh government, which has announced Rs. 1 million compensations for the family of deceased, they want a full inquiry in the incidence. Sanitary workers in Pakistan are mostly low caste Christians and Hindus and they work in very poor conditions that includes long and harsh work conditions, low wages and no arrangements for health and safety.

“These poor workers are made to do most dangerous work without any safety equipment,” said the statement. “Cleaning of deep gutters are done by machines where as in our country its mostly done manually by putting lives of poor workers in danger. This is what exactly happened with Irafn.”

The network has demanded twofold action to mitigate the death of Irfan and save others. First thing government particularly Sindh government needs to do is to immediately review the current working conditions of sanitary workers and come up with new set of terms and conditions of employment to ensure their dignity and value their work. This should include introduction of the latest technology in cleaning work. Second, declare discrimination on the basis of caste and descend as a crime and bring in a law in this regard to make it punishable crime.

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