The workers had spoken out at a public hearing of the NHRC.
Nine mortuary workers in the city, who had approached the NHRC against their working conditions in January , have been indefinitely suspended till an inquiry against them is complete. While the state government officials claimed this was an “administrative move”, about 100 mortuary workers working at four post-mortem centres in government-run hospitals have alleged that the suspension was a direct result of their decision to protest against the poor working conditions at these centres. The workers had spoken out at a public hearing of the NHRC.
On January 6, a group of mortuary workers, along with NGO Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA), attempted to present their case in front of a bench headed by former NHRC chairperson Justice Cyriac Joseph. In their complaint, they claimed they received no protective gear while conducting autopsies. Additionally, they complained that their working environment was prone to infections such as tuberculosis and HIV, a major human rights violation. The bench then ordered the state to respond within two weeks.
According to mortuary workers from Cooper, Rajawadi, JJ and Bhagwati hospitals’ post-mortem centres, a notice was first issued to a few workers who had spoken up at the NHRC hearing.
On February 25, a suspension letter was issued to nine workers — three from JJ, three from Bhagwati, two from Rajawadi and one from Cooper Hospital. “The bodies are stored in morgues for months. They start decomposing if not preserved well, which can spread infection,” a mortuary worker from JJ Hospital said. He added that he is made to lift bodies, sweep floors, cut open and stitch back the bodies, all this with no medical training. “We learnt while watching senior workers. Doctors did not train us,” he said.
According to another mortuary worker from Bhagwati Hospital’s post-mortem centre, gloves are reused after washing as stocks are not regular. Another from the Cooper Hospital mortuary said, “HIV kits are only used by doctors. We have never been trained on the need to use them.”
Dr S M Patil, police surgeon heading the four centres,centres refused to state the reason for suspension. “The inquiry is on in this case. It is an administrative move. They have been suspended until the inquiry is over,” he said. Asked about the lack of protective gear, Patil said, “We have enough gloves and masks. In fact, we always have extra stock.”
The JSA, in its representation to the NHRC, also demanded financial compensation to workers contracting tuberculosis possibly due to the infectious environment of these centres. The JSA has sought timely disposal of bodies, six-monthly health check-ups and vaccination for the workers against Hepatitis B virus.
A suspended workers said pleading anonymity, “Whenever we raise our voice against the poor conditions of mortuaries, we are reprimanded. The workers are now scared to complain .”