Calls for justice as Christian sanitary worker dies

Doctors allegedly refuse to touch unclean body of Pakistani civic worker who fell unconscious after inhaling toxic fumes
Calls for justice as Christian sanitary worker dies

A file image of a hospital in Peshawar the capital of the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Doctors from a hospital in Sindh province, in the country's south, have come under fire after the death of a Christian worker who was allegedly denied immediate medical attention. (Photo by A Majeed/AFP)

Rights activists are calling for justice after medical practitioners refused to treat a Christian sanitary worker in Sindh Province, southern Pakistan.

Irfan Maish, 35, died in a government-run hospital in Umerkot town after doctors allegedly refused to touch his unclean body.

In a press release, Kamran Michael, a Christian minister for human rights, condemned the irresponsible behavior of the doctors at Civil Hospital Umerkot as criminal negligence.

Michael, who heard of the incident through national media reports, telephoned police superintendent Umerkot Usman Bajwa to demand a first information report and an immediate inquiry into the case.

Masih and three fellow workers fell unconscious after inhaling toxic fumes while cleaning a manhole in Umerkot, June 1.

The workers were rushed to the public hospital where the doctors on duty allegedly refused to touch their sludge-covered bodies and asked their attendants to wash them first.

Irfan Maish passed away during the cleaning process, his younger brother told reporters.

Local Christians later carried his body to the press club where they protested by burning tires on rods and staged a sit-in for eight hours.

SSP Usman Bajwa told, "The Umerkot District Police stand with this poor family at this sad time. They will be provided every possible help. An investigation will be conducted purely on merit."

The police have recorded the complaint against six people, including the main accused Dr. Muhammad Jaam Kunbhar, the medical superintendent and two junior doctors.

However, the director of general health provided his support to the doctors, declaring them innocent and saying that Masih was already dead on arrival.

The hospital administration has also filed a case against the Christians for stealing an oxygen cylinder.

Kashif Nawab, a patron of Minority Rights Watch, is presently liaising with local police. "This is not an accident. Masih was a victim of a mindset. The doctors may have saved face but they lost a precious life," he said.

"We demand a strict punishment for those responsible. The department should accept its responsibility. The government should enforce the law against the negligence."

Michelle Chaudhry, president of Cecil Chaudhry and Iris Foundation, a charity that supports the welfare of religious minorities in Pakistan, sent written requests to Chief Minister Sindh and the Provincial Health Ministry calling for an impartial investigation.

"A society becomes exceedingly dangerous when it disregards all the norms of humanity. An innocent precious life was lost because someone refused to perform his duty, a duty he is under oath and obligated to perform," she said in a press statement.

"Accountability is pivotal in order to curb such incidents from occurring in the future," Chaudhry said.

Chaudhry also called on the authorities to ensure future safety and protection of the workers who work in extremely hazardous environments by implementing the necessary safety measures which are mandatory for the nature of their work.

Perwaiz Masih, a sanitary worker for 21 years, said the right equipment would help to save future lives.

"We only have a ladder, a rope and a bucket to pull out the sludge and stones. Our only option to check oxygen in drains, up to 30 feet deep, is by throwing burning matchsticks. We descend if it keeps burning," he said.

"However poisonous gases can erupt from any line once the blockage is opened," he said.

More than 80 Christians are currently employed as sewer cleaners by the municipal committee in Umerkot.

In 2014, two sanitary workers died in similar circumstances in Umerkot.

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