KARACHI: Asma, a Bengali resident of Khuda ki Basti, has been diagnosed positive for hepatitis C but she was denied treatment at the Civil Hospital, Karachi, because she does not have a computerised national identity card (CNIC).
“They wanted to see a CNIC,” Asma explained. “I do not have it because I have been refused by the government department time and again.” The National Database and Registration Authority kept telling her to prove her citizenship but she failed to do so as she was born in Karachi.
“What more do they want as proof?” she asked.
Asma was diagnosed positive for hepatitis C at a public health clinic in her neighbourhood and referred to the Civil hospital in 2009 under the Sindh government’s hepatitis prevention programme.
“One of the doctors was kind enough to tell me that I should get a certificate from the local councillor that I am Pakistani,” she said.
“But the councillor asked for an amount of money that I could not afford. So no CNIC, no treatment.”
Several Bengali Pakistanis are turned away from public hospitals and clinics. “A lot of it has to do with the mindset of the people in power and that is what trickles down,” said Muhammad Kamran, a Bengali worker.
A group fighting for the rights of Bengalis said that there are around three million Bengalis in Pakistan and most of them live in Karachi. Bengalis are also mostly from the poorest strata of the society, mainly due to their alien status in the country as well as due to the discrimination they face in public services. The programme manager for Hepatitis Prevention and Control Program, Abdul Majeed Chutto, defended his organisation by saying that it treats all patients equally.
“As far as the question of being a `valid’ citizen is concerned, we do ask patients to provide a copy of their identity cards to find out where they live so we can refer them to a facility nearby,” he said, stressing that they treat people without discrimination.
In August 2009, a Bengali housemaid died of hepatitis B because she was unable to get treatment allegedly due to her Bengali origin and her meagre income. Civil Hospital, Karachi, denied all facilities to her. Meanwhile, her husband and children, all tested positive for hepatitis, have no means of seeking treatment, said a report by IRIN, the United Nations information unit.
Meanwhile, Kamran believed that much of the discrimination levelled against Bengalis is due to their accent or inability to communicate effectively with the rest of the population. “As compared to Afghans, who speak Pushto and are often taken as Pakistanis, Bengali speakers are easier to spot,” he said, “Most Bengali women are unable to comprehend what the doctors or officials are telling them.”
A worker at the Lyari General Hospital, Karachi, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed that there are no official policies of discrimination against Bengalis but that does not mean that it does not take place. “We have a lot of Bengalis coming here for treatment,” he said, “But they are often sidelined by the doctors and even insulted by other patients.” He explained that this prejudice has been ingrained into our minds that these people are traitors.