Thursday February 22, 2024

‘Caste-based discrimination must be criminalised’

By our correspondents
June 05, 2017

Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network demands punishment for ‘criminally negligent’ doctors, hospital staff; urges Sindh government to improve working

conditions of province’s sanitary workers

The Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network (PDSN) on Sunday strongly condemned the death of Irfan Masih, a sanitary worker who died at the Civil Hospital Umerkot on Thursday after doctors refused to treat him until his body was washed.

A coalition of over two dozen rights-based civil society organisations, the PDSN termed Irfan’s death a result of criminal negligence of doctors and relevant staff of the local municipal committee.

The network demanded action against the culprits and also urged the Sindh government 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 of their work.

“This should include introduction of the latest technology in cleaning work. Second, declare discrimination on the basis of caste and descent as a crime and bring in a law in this regard to make it a punishable crime.”

Twenty-eight-year-old Irfan, an employee of the local municipal committee, had dived into a deep manhole to clean it up but fell unconscious after inhaling a poisonous gas. Three more of his colleagues - Yaqoob Masih, Faisal and Shaukat - who jumped in to rescue him also fell unconscious.

As the four of them were rushed to Umerkot’s civil hospital after being pulled out of the manhole, doctors refused to provide medical treatment to them. Irfan passed away at the hospital while the rest of the three were referred to Karachi’s National Hospital; Yaqoob is still reportedly in a serious condition.

PDSN representatives, Dr Sono Khangharani, Pirbhulal and Zulfiqar Shah in a joint statement said they are saddened over the attitude of local doctors and authorities which demonstrate a clear discrimination against lower caste Christians and Hindus.

“This is not a simple accidental death. This is a clear case of caste based discrimination, which is yet to be criminalised in Pakistan,” the statement read.

“People are discriminated against 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,” the statement further read.

Office-bearers of the rights coalition said that though they appreciate the Sindh government announcing compensation of Rs1 million for the family of the deceased, a full inquiry into the incident and holding the culprits responsible was necessary.

Sanitary workers in Pakistan are mostly low-caste Christians and Hindus who work in extremely poor conditions including long hours and harsh work conditions, low-wages and without any health or safety arrangements.

“These poor workers are made to do the most dangerous work without any safety equipment,” said the statement. “Cleaning of deep gutters is done by machines but in our country it is mostly done manually by putting the lives of the poor workers in danger.”