UMERKOT: Police on Friday registered a case against six people following the death of Irfan Masih, a sanitary worker who lost his life a day earlier after being refused treatment by doctors at the Umerkot Civil Hospital.

The victim’s father, Nazeer Masih, had filed a complaint against three doctors at the hospital — Civil Hospital Medical Superintendent Jam Kunbhar, Medical Officer Yusuf and duty doctor Allahdad Rathor — and three employees of the Umerkot Municipal Committee — Sanitary Inspector Behari Lal, Khalid Khoso and Sarwan Malhi.

Umerkot police said they had arrested MS Kunbhar.

According to the case registered under Sections 319 (punishment for qatl-i-khata or manslaughter) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code, the doctors are accused of criminal negligence for refusing Irfan treatment “as he was covered in filth” while the municipal committee employees failed to provide Irfan and other sanitary workers the necessary safety kits and gear.

According to the victim’s father, Irfan, 28, had descended into a deep manhole to clear the line but smelled poisonous gas and called out for help. He said the municipal committee staff did not have the equipment to pull Irfan out, so another worker, Yaqoob Masih, descended into the manhole to rescue him. However, the two workers inhaled the fumes and fainted. Two sanitary workers, Faisal and Shaukat, went after them but fainted as well. The four men were rescued by people in the area and were taken to the Umerkot Civil Hospital.

Umerkot civil hospital MS arrested

According to Nazeer, at the hospital the duty doctor refused to check Irfan claiming that he was covered in filth while the former was fasting. The hospital did not have an oxygen cylinder so none of the four sanitary workers brought to them could be treated. Irfan passed away while the other sanitary workers were referred to a hospital in Hyderabad in a critical condition.

Following his death, Irfan’s family held a protest. They carried his body from the Civil Hospital to the press club where they sat under a scorching sun for eight hours.

People protesting Irfan's death. — Photo: Hanif Samoon
People protesting Irfan's death. — Photo: Hanif Samoon

Babar, the brother of the deceased, said none of the sanitary workers were provided safety kits or appropriate clothing. “Our youth are pushed into manholes to die,” he lamented.

The protesters said that had there been access to life-saving drugs, oxygen cylinders and sympathetic doctors, Irfan would have been alive.

They complained that sanitary workers were not trained on how to rescue fellow workers or how to avoid such a situation, and recalled that there had been two similar incidents in which sanitary workers had died in the past five years. Following the medical superintendent’s arrest, several office-bearers of the Pakistan Medical Association took out a rally in protest against the arrest of Dr Kunbhar and the registration of an FIR against the other three doctors.

They claimed that the case was fabricated and that the doctors had been serving the community for 30 years. They threatened to boycott the Outdoor Patient Department and emergency services wards throughout the district if Dr Kunbhar was not released.

Home Minister Sohail Anwar Siyal, Inspector General A.D. Khowaja and Umerkot Civil Judge Ali Hassan Marri have taken notice of the incident and have called for a report from the police.

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2017

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