Wife dead, worker and son-in-law positive; workers demand accommodation, insurance


The family of a BMC safai kamgar (sanitation worker), who tested positive for Covid-19, has been devastated after his wife also contracted the virus and died on Sunday. The incident has shocked the worker community, whose work exposes their family members to high risk.

The worker, who was assigned duty at Dharavi, first tested positive and was admitted to SevenHills Hospital on March 31. Two days later his wife showed symptoms of fever and was admitted to Kasturba Hospital. While she tested negative at first, by the time her results turned positive a few days later, her condition had worsened to such an extent that she had to be taken to the ICU.

The virus also infected the worker’s son-in-law, who is now admitted to the PWD hospital in Andheri. His daughter and her two children were briefly quarantined at Kasturba, and his son and daughter-in-law were in home quarantine; they are all negative.

“Last month I had cough and a sore throat. I took medicine, but one day I came home feeling severely drained. My wife and I went to Nair Hospital. They tested me and admitted me to SevenHills. Later my wife took ill and went to test at Kasturba. I must have given the virus to her,” the worker said.

The worker’s daughter, who was the last to see her mother, said nobody from the caregiving staff attended to her mother’s needs. “She had fever and had become weak and disoriented. She kept asking for hot water, but no one gave her. When I took permission to see her, her clothes were soiled. I gave her a change of clothes. The staff did not pay any attention to my mum. She was a strong woman, with no medical condition. We never imagined we would lose her,” the daughter told Mirror.

A few days ago, the worker himself made an appeal through a video message from SevenHills, for urgent attention to his wife’s health. “We clean everyone’s dirt, but when we are in difficulty, we are shunned. The disease has affected my whole family,” he said.

Dr Chandrakant Pawar, medical superintendent of Kasturba, denied the allegations. “There was no medical negligence as alleged. A specialist from Nair Hospital attended to the patient. The relatives should have asked for post-mortem if they thought there was negligence,” he told Mirror.

The virus outbreak has further endangered BMC workers’ lives, whose work is hazardous even under normal circumstances. They are now demanding separate accommodation for a couple of months so that their families are not exposed to the risk.

“Most of us stay in slums and rental accommodation in Kalyan, Thane, Panvel. We travel from far to the city. The administration can put us up somewhere closer,” a safai worker said.

A worker who works in Byculla and stays in Bhayandar said he spends four to five hours a day just commuting. “I have to leave home at 4 am if I have to report for work at 6.30-7 am. I take a bus to Borivali and change to a bus for Dadar. From Dadar I take another bus to Byculla. The buses are scheduled every half an hour. At Borivali there is a queue. Since only one person is allowed on one seat, the wait to get on the bus is long,” he said.

Sunil Yadav, a PhD scholar at TISS, who is also a BMC safai worker and is currently on sabbatical, said workers were stripped of health insurance in 2017. “Since we are most vulnerable to illness, we needed the insurance. But for everyone, we come last,” he said. He has volunteered to join work during the lockdown period.