London: A Christian sewer worker fell unconscious after entering a known dangerous sewer with high toxicity, after being threatened with the sack when he initially refused.
Two Christian friends concerned about the unconscious man lost their lives trying to rescue him from the known death trap.
Company regulations were broken: One of the rescuers and a survivor had been on suspension due to previous unauthorised absence after already contracting illness while working in the drains.
One of the dead men was not permitted to work in a main drain because he is on a self employment contract and was not a regular employee
Emergency services officers with breathing masks refused to help two unconscious Christians because they were ritually unclean.
At 9pm, 3rd October 2021, Michael Masih (33 yrs) was called to work at Metropolitan Corporation Sarghoda for an emergency sewage clearance, by the Sanitary Supervisor Muhammad Farooq. This was despite still being on suspension as he awaited the result of a disciplinary hearing for an unauthorised absence from 28th September 2021. Threatened with the sack Michael arrived at work only to be told to enter an unsafe sewer without any personal protective equipment (PPE).
Michael tried to refuse the work but received a heavy verbal tirade full of expletives. The disgusting language included the use of the term choorah an insult given to Christians meaning dirty cleaner and was heard by many of his colleagues. Having not been paid any salary during his suspension and desperate to bring some food and other domestic necessities to his home, Faisal grudgingly entered the dangerous sewer at around 10pm with intent to clear a blockage. Three sanitary supervisors Muhammad Farooq, Muhammad Amjad and Muhammad Rashid were present when Michael entered the sewage pipe without any safety equipment.
Within minutes Michael had passed out and other staff raised the alarm. The result of which was a barked command from Mohammad Farooq to two other Christian men Nadeem Masih (40 yrs) and Faisal Masih (34yrs) , to enact a rescue. The two men terrified for their own lives asked for some PPE but were refused, desperate to save the other mans life however, they quickly entered the main sewer. It should be noted that Nadeem Masih was a contracted member of staff without appropriate training for the main sewer and should never have been asked to enter.
The two rescuers grabbed Michael from the floor of the main sewer and managed to heave him above out of the sewer with the help of other workers. But as they were to begin their ascend out of the sewer to safety they were bought caught in a heavy current of water which dragged them to the floor far away where they became unconscious. Only at this point did Muhammad Farooq call emergency services on 1122.
An emergency team got to the sewer within 10 minutes but on arrival they looked down the pipe and could see the men but refused to save them. This was on account that they were choorah and would cause the Muslims to become ritually impure. The refusal lead to a call being made by one of the elderly Christian men at the site to his younger nephew Shahbaz Masih (38 yrs) who was off work at home - to come and rescue the two men.
Unfortunately, it took Shahbaz 30 minutes to get to the site and though he did enter the sewer and help remove the bodies of his colleagues, they had already passed away.
The rescue of the body of Faisal Masih is viewable in this video the video is graphic so please only click here if you find this palatable (click here)
“Around 2;00 am, my uncle called me to urgently attend at the sewers to help rescue to colleagues in a main sewer pipe.
"I got ready quickly and arrived at the site round 2:30.
"I was able to pull the dead bodies out of the hole because the current that had rendered the men unconscious was the result of a blockage dislocation.
"The air was safer by then."
"The 1122 rescue team had arrived long before me, they had even entered the sewage pipe wearing masks.
"I am still shocked that they returned to the surface from only halfway down into the hole.
"If they had intervened and helped the two unconscious men, our brothers would still be alive”
The Gates of Hell - entrance to Metropolitan Sargodha where many Christians have died.
Michael Masih, who was survived this incident because of the bravery of the two deceased men, spoke with British Asian Christian Association, officers, he said:
“This job is like living in hell.
"We are never permitted any leave.
"The work environment is unsafe, we are exposed to dangerous sewer gas and waste water.
"All employees contract illnesses but are forced to worked despite fever, coughs and sneezing.
"When we ask for sick-leave our managers abuse us and threaten us with the sack and tell us to report for disciplinary hearings.
"But when they need us they even cancel suspensions - both Faisal and I were on suspension and neither should have been working till a response was received via the inquiry committee."
Anum Masih (20 yrs) wife of deceased Faisal Masih has clarified to BACA that Faisal had not wanted to go to work. He had pleaded with Muhammad Farooq to find someone else as he already had flu like symptoms and was still on a suspension. But threatened with loss of work and subjected to horrendous verbal abuse, he felt he had no choice. Anum explained:
"Faisal was very sick.
"I asked him to not go to work that evening because he was weak and would make others ill.
"But he told me that though he did not want to go he would lose his job if he declined - the boss had made it very clear to him.
"Faisal told me, we could not afford to have him off work - we will starve to death he said.
"When he went to work he told me he has to work because he wanted our children to have the things they wanted and needed."
"He kissed my son Harris before leaving and promised him some sweets when he returned.
"But he did not return and I am still in shock - my heart is broken."
Sehrish Bibi (34 yrs) sister of Faisal confirmed that he was ill before working and had informed Muhammad Farooq. She believes Mr Farooq was purposely making Faisal work on a Sunday as it was a Christian holy day and a day of rest. She reiterated that Faisal had not wanted to go to work.
"My brother has left behind two young sons, Izek Faisal (8 mths) and Harris Faisal (2 yrs).
"The oldest keeps asking where his father we have told Harris that he won't be returning but I am not sure he understands.
"It breaks my heart when I think about their future."
The families of the three men and many other Christians from the surrounding area protested against the callous management and lack of safety at work that has resulted in the two deaths, and serious injury to Michael Masih.
Mariam Nadeem (35 yrs) the wife of Nadeem now has to care for six children, three daughters and three sons without her husband. The two of them had been working for the same sewage company, Nadeem for 18 years and Mariam for the last 12 years. They have both been overlooked for permanent employment contracts despite their long years of service (which is in breach of Pakistan's often ignored employment laws). This is a ploy that keeps Christians bereft of employment rights and on meagre wages.
"Nadeem's death is a shock to our family.
"He was so young and has been a great and wonderful husband and father.
"We miss him so much but God has called him to his breast and we thank God for his gift of heaven.
"He died saving another man and we know he would have done the same for others.
"We are proud of his humanity and love and pray for change in the work environment in the sewers."
Azra Bibi (65 yrs) a maternal aunt of Faisal wailed as she explained that his mother died giving birth to him. Now his children have no father. She said:
“Our local authority officers and police are very cruel.
No-one has attempted to console us.
"An FIR has been registered but no arrest has been yet made.
"We will protest on the roads again if Police and authorities do nothing."
With the help of BACA officers leaders from the community have been able to challenge local police to register a crime under First Information Report (FIR) No. 612/21. The charge sheet implicates three men Muhammad Farooq, Muhammad Rashid and Muhammad Amjad under sections 321 - 323 of the Pakistan Penal Code.
Whoever, without any intention, cause death of, or cause harm to, any person, does any unlawful act which becomes a cause for the death of another person, is said to commit qatl-bis-sabab.
A unlawfully digs a pit in the thoroughfare, but without any intention to cause death of, or harm to, any person, B while passing from there falls in it and is killed. A has committed qatl-bis-sabab.
322. Punishment for qatl-bis-sabab:
Whoever commit qatl bis-sabab shall be liable to diyat.
Value of diyat:
(1) The Court shall, subject to the Injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Qur'an and Sunnah and keeping in view the financial position of the convict and the heirs of the victim, fix the value of diyat which shall not be less than the value of thirty thousand six hundred and thirty grams of silver.
(2) For the purpose of sub-section (1), the Federal Government shall, by notification in the official Gazette, declare the value of Silver, on the first day of July each year or on such date as it may deem fit, which shall be the value payable during a financial year.
The local Christian community have expressed great disappointment that local Police and the Provincial government are taking little action. Local Police have not yet begun an investigation and no arrests have been made. The common belief is that their is little passion to see justice in this case. The truth of the matter is that a successful case, would have repercussions across the whole nation. Christians have been misused and maltreated for decades in Pakistan, where often provincial government adverts seek only minority employees for base-level sewage work.
The families of all three victims have asked British Asian Christian Association, to provide an advocate to represent their case in the courts, calling for a conviction and compensation.
Main Points for a legal case:
No Safety Equipment or safe working practice was in place for these three sewage workers, in breach of the Factories Act 1934 and Hazardous Occupations Rules 1964, Environment Protection Act 1997.
Michael and Faisal Masih were both suspended from duty due to an unauthorised absence and should not have been allowed to work till a response from the investigating committee had been received.
Nadeem Masih was not a regular employee of the Metropolitan Corporation Sargodha yet was forced to enter a main sewerage line without any safety equipment or training. Technically an employee on a self-employment contract cannot enter into manholes for de-silting and cleaning.
All three men at one point refused to enter the sewage pipe without protection but were berated at and told they would lose employment for failing to work.
We will be seeking compensation for the families through The Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923 and Workmen's Compensation Rules 1961.
Michael Masih spoke further with our officers, stating:
"The fear of losing our jobs forced us to enter into the pipe-line despite clear readings showing a high level of toxicity and the pungent smell of noxious gases .
"The line on Main Road, Chungi No.9, is 30 feet deep even then we were refused masks and safety equipment.
"The wooden stairs we used to enter into the pipes were broken - which made an exit even harder
“I entered into the pipe and immediately fell unconscious.
"Faisal and Nadeem bravely entered into the hole to rescue me -I don’t know how they brought me up it would have been very difficult.
“I was taken to Civil Hospital Sargodha where I was on oxygen for almost 2 days.
"I still find breathing difficult and have severe pain in my lungs and my vision has been irreparably damaged. the
"Many of us have no choice but to work in the poorest work conditions for the sake of our children.”
Full of emotion Michael added a very sombre comment, saying:
"I still cannot believe that I have lost two men I consider my brothers, who gave up their lives to save me.
"It is in stark contrast to Muhammad Farooq and other supervisors who fled from the scene and left us there to die."
BACA Officers have met with all the families and immediately offered support and help. We prayed with the families of those who have departed this earth and with Michael and his family. We have covered all the funeral costs for Nadeem Masih and Faisal Masih and seek to help the families for the next 6 months with grants to get over the loss of their regular domestic income. We also hope to provide legal cover for all three families in order to gain justice in this situation, compensation to help the young families left behind without a patriarch and for Michael who will not be able to work for some time and will have long-term health implications.