The death of a sanitary worker in Umerkot should make all of us recoil in horror on two counts. First the worker and his three other colleagues were made to clean a sewer without safety gear and when he was pulled out of the sewer — which was emitting toxic gas fumes — in a breathless and injured state he was allegedly refused treatment by a doctor. This is hardly the first time something like this has happened. Apparently sanitary workers are supposed to come to hospital in their Sunday best.
Although investigations aren’t over yet, it would appear from his family’s anguish that Irfan Masih’s death was preventable and the family rightly seeks vindication. Seemingly, doctors at the hospital have blood on their hands and the case seems to be a criminal one rather than a civil one. There is no religious justification for the medical neglect; the argument is tenuous as it is improbable for any faith system to allow a human to die. The doctors’ behaviour was classist and this is a practice many people engage in whether attributed to our colonial rulers or the influence from the Hindu culture that once called our land home. The onus of perpetuating the class system falls on us nevertheless.
Value assigned to human life is low in this country. This is why Irfan and his coworkers suffered medical injury while on duty. Working conditions were hazardous and inadequate training was provided to the workers to protect themselves from harmful gases. Safety procedures for municipal employees need to be reviewed as a priority. The government hospital in Umerkot was also ill-equipped to support life. It is abhorrent that an empty oxygen tank was allegedly provided and indicates a dysfunctional set-up, which should be investigated by authorities before more lives are endangered. One hopes that the municipality and the government hospital are put through strict scrutiny to improve their procedures.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2017.
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