A Pakistani sewer worker was killed recently while cleaning a manhole in Umerkot. He was knocked unconscious from sewer gasses and rushed to a local hospital. But three doctors refused to work on him because he was deemed “unclean” and he suffocated to death.
Irfan Masih, 20, was covered in sewer sludge:
“The doctors refused to treat him because they were fasting and said my son was ‘napaak (unclean),’” Irshad Masih, the sewer worker’s mother, told Pakistan’s Express Tribune.
Muslims across the world are currently observing the holy month of Ramadan, which requires them to abstain from eating, drinking and sex during daylight hours, but treating the worker does not appear to fall under these rules. Muslim medical professionals across the world frequently work with patients in all sorts of conditions during the holy month.
The victim’s brother, Parvaiz Masih, said he cleaned his brother’s body. The doctors then gave him an empty oxygen cylinder. He died before they could get a full one. He told the story in full:
“My brother left our family home and arrived at his workplace at 7am as per usual on the 1st of June. The sewerage lines had been blocked for a few days and it is know this causes a build up of poisonous gases. Despite this knowledge senior managers demanded that my brother Irfan and his colleagues Shaukat and Yaqoob Masih enter the sewerage tunnel without safety gear to remove the blockage.
“All three men refused to unclog the drain but were told that if they did not proceed with entering the drain and extracting the sludge, they would have their employment terminated. So they duly started to clear the sewage pipe.
“They objected that the lines, clogged for a long time, would be filled with poisonous gases, but the three inspectors told them that they either open the clogged lines or quit their jobs.
“Yaqoob entered the manhole first but fell unconscious when he opened the blocked pipe due to strong poisonous fumes.
“My brother Irfan entered next tied a rope around Yaqoob and waited for him to be pulled out, but his rope knot came undone resulting in the body of Yaqoob falling on him and rendering him unconscious too.
“Shaukhat then tried to save the two men but also fell unconscious due to the noxious fumes.
“At 8am I received a call and my colleagues and I ran to help. Shaukat’s brother Faisal also reached there with me. He tied a rope around himself and took another rope to tie onto the bodies of the three. By now much of the poisonous fumes had escaped and we were able to pulled the all three of them out of the manhole.”
This man could have been saved but three doctors violated their Hippocratic oath and refused to help.
Umerkot has 75 Christian families. Most of them work as sanitary workers because it is a job Muslims are not interested in doing. The system has not been updated since British colonial times and workers do not have any protective equipment. Cleaners are expected to hold their breath and dive into filthy water to remove blockages with bamboo sticks.
The British Pakistani Christian Association is raising funds to cover the funeral costs for Irfan Masih. If you would like to donate, you can do so here.