KARACHI: “His name is Sikander: he is Anita’s father,” a lady health worker pointed at an elderly man standing stunned outside the mortuary of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre who was among the dozens of crying relatives on Tuesday.
A tall man with a stoop, he appeared powerless to comprehend what had snatched his daughter from him.
“He is unable to speak,” said a volunteer. “He is not even crying.”
Anita, 27, was a midwife, like her slain colleague Akbari, and Fahad was a storekeeper in the Korangi district municipal corporation from where they had been ordered to join other teams in a major anti-polio drive to inoculate children under five.
“They unlike most volunteers taking part in the campaign were employed with the Korangi DMC, where they got orders to take part in this dangerous effort,” said Khairunnisa Memon, who heads the Sindh Lady Health Workers Association.
The few people around the JPMC mortuary who knew Sikander were trying to keep TV reporters at bay who were doing their best to win the ‘breaking news’ competition.
“Please leave him alone,” said an angry volunteer trying to push a group of reporters to a safer distance. “He can’t speak.”
“Why don’t you understand?” shouted another. “He has just lost his daughter.”
One volunteer said Sikander had arrived there a couple of hours after the attack was flashed on the media giving sketchy details about the identity of the victims.
“He was highly perturbed,” he said. “He was reciting Quranic verses and praying loudly for the safety of his daughter until he was informed about her death.”
“He cried once but later became silent. His tears also dried up.”
Mohammad Aslam, a resident of Garden-West’s middle-class clusters, was a neighbour of Sikander, who said young Anita was mother of three daughters.
“Her husband is a poor worker and like many other families she worked to feed and educate her daughters,” he said.
“She was a very good daughter. He loved her the most,” he looked sadly at the distraught old man.
Wearing washed-out shalwar qameez, a grief-stricken Jumman Ibrahim was a labourer from Orangi Town. He was crying aloud and was being comforted by everyone around him.
“I was at work when someone told me that someone with the name of Akbari was among the team attacked in Qayyumabad,” he cried.
He said he knew his wife had been deputed in the vicinity that had been hit, yet he hoped against hope.
“I called on her mobile phone but found it switched off, which she never did,” said Ibrahim.
He said a minor son of theirs suffered from cerebral palsy and that was the reason why Akbari kept her phone on at all times.
“That was why I became really frightened and rushed to the hospital.”
“My wife has been worried about the welfare and future of our son. She was the nucleus for our family. Where would I go now?” said the man, now talking to himself.
Fahad Khalil, 25, lived in the Jehangir Road area. He was shot twice in the head and chest while inoculating a child with ill-fated colleagues.
His parents were in tears.
“He had just started his life. Why did they kill him?” his father sobbed. “He never fought with anyone; he was a very lovable boy.”
The hospital administration had prudently disallowed the media from interviewing the wounded unlike the past when at times reporters caught the victims before they were given proper treatment.
Another volunteer who was shot in the incident, Salma was lucky enough to survive.
A young girl who introduced herself as Salma’s daughter said: “She has survived, but what about others who don’t. Don’t they have children that suffer?”
“My mother works for Rs250 a day to keep us alive, not to get killed.”
Campaign suspended in Karachi
Dr Zafar Ijaz, the executive district officer (health), said the anti-polio campaign had been suspended after the Tuesday attack and it would take a couple of days to resume it with a fresh security strategy.
“We have suspended the campaign in Karachi for two days until a fresh security strategy has been evolved,” he said.
“One thing, however, is already understood,” he said. “None of our teams will go out from now on until security is provided.”
He said now all parts of the city would be considered equally ‘sensitive’ and teams would not come out without the security cover.
“We are very upset and sad with the situation, but our workers’ morale is not down. They are ready to work with adequate security along,” he claimed.
The deputy project manager of the Sindh Expanded Programme on Immunisation, Dr Durre Naz Jamal, said the campaign had been suspended only in Karachi, but it would continue in the rest of Sindh.
Ms Memon, the head of the Sindh Lady Health Workers Association, said despite her announcement to stop immunising children after the Karachi attack no government official had contacted them.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Medical Association (Centre) condemned the attacks and demanded that those who killed innocent polio workers be brought to justice and given exemplary punishment.
Vaccinators targeted since 2012
It was the first attack — and one of the gravest — on polio workers this year. In a previous attack on Dec 17, 2013 an attacker was killed and another arrested by the police in a botched attack on vaccinators in Gadap Town. In another attack on Aug 21, 2013 — also in Gadap – over 30 female vaccinators were attacked with gunshots by six armed men, which forced them to take shelter in a nearby school until police guards returned fire and caught one attacker. Two sisters survived one more attack last year.
In 2012, a young volunteer associated with the anti-polio campaign was shot dead in Gadap Town, stopping the three-day anti-polio campaign in the most volatile union council 4.
In July 2012, a local paramedic associated with polio vaccination was shot dead and a World Health Organisation doctor, Fosten Dido, from Ghana and his driver were wounded in two separate attacks in the Sohrab Goth area.