NATION

Debate Over Bedridden Man

Vijendra Prakash who is now a Member of Parliament said Mr Singh came from a poor background and worked seven days a week. He said as part of his chores at the Shiv Temple, Mr Singh cleaned the temple, repaired statues and did other chores.
19 Jun 2019 14:12
Debate Over Bedridden Man
Bedridden Babu Singh 77 at his Cunningham old-road home on June 11, 2019. Photo: Ronald Kumar

In a house situated in the informal settlement in Cunningham Old Road in Tamavua, 77-year-old Babu Singh lies in his bed staring at the ceiling.

There is nobody home and the doors of his house are locked from outside. Family members are away at work and school during the day.

There is no caretaker. The family cannot be afford one. The doors are locked to prevent thefts.

Mr Singh was employed at the Shiv Mandir in Rewa Street in Suva when he fell while carrying a table. This happened three years ago. As a result of this accident, Mr Singh broke his pelvic bone rendering him motionless below his hips.

He is left with food, water, his medicines, a bottle to urinate in and a small transistor radio to keep him company.

He spent three weeks in hospital and two days after he was discharged, his son Dalip Singh passed away. Mr Singh’s despair had no bounds. His son’s coffin had to be brought into his room. And he was not able to be part of the final rites.

Last week his nephew Manoj Singh came to visit and raised the question as to why his employer, Hindu religious organisation Shree Sanatan Dharam Pratinidhi Sabha had not considered paying any form of workmen’s compensation. His argument is that it is the law.

President of Sanatan Dharam, Labasa lawyer, Sarju Prasad initially denied that Mr Singh was employed at the temple or by the organisation.

Then last week, when questioned again he said he had been informed by his people that Mr Singh was maybe an employee. But he did not concede to the notion that Mr Singh was injured at work.

“We have helped people in the past as well. I will bring this to the attention of my national council. And the national council will decide,” Mr Prasad said.

“Now that we have come to know about it that somebody is suffering not that he got injured at work. We don’t concede to that.”

Bedridden Babu Singh’s grandson, Shival Singh locks the door from outside of their house as his grandfather stays home alone in their Cunningham old-road home on June 11, 2019.  Photo: Ronald Kumar

Bedridden Babu Singh’s grandson, Shival Singh locks the door from outside of their house as his grandfather stays home alone in their Cunningham old-road home on June 11, 2019. Photo: Ronald Kumar

However, former president Dewan Chand Maharaj and former general secretary Vijendra Prakash said otherwise.

Mr Maharaj said he interviewed Babu Singh for work at the Shiv Temple in Samabula.

Mr Maharaj said Mr Singh was paid $150 a fortnight and had requested that superannuation not be taken from his pay as he had already gone past the retirement age.

He added there should have been some type of workmen’s compensation paid out to Mr Singh as stated in the law.

Vijendra Prakash who is now a Member of Parliament said Mr Singh came from a poor background and worked seven days a week. He said as part of his chores at the Shiv Temple, Mr Singh cleaned the temple, repaired statues and did other chores.

“I clearly recall that Mr Singh was employed at the temple for almost 10 years. Just a week before the so called accident, we had a meeting and decided to increase Mr Singh’s salary,” Mr Prakash said.

“Poverty is such a thing that it made that old man work seven days a week. He did it so he could contribute towards his family’s income.

“I am no longer with the organisation but I feel that the Sanatan Dharam should have a closer look at this issue. It is a Hindu religious body and what type of example is it setting by ignoring the plights of a man who devoted his time to working in a temple.

“Here we are preaching about morals and the actions of the religious body say otherwise. I will try to see if the Ministry of Labour through proper assessment finds out if Mr Singh is entitled to some help.”

The initial story on Mr Singh generated interest here and abroad. There have been calls to the Fiji Sun office from Hindu devotees who say Mr Singh was employed at the temple. Some have even started a fundraiser for him to help him get a caretaker.

Mr Singh could have easily been shifted off to an elderly home, but his daughter-in-law Uma Singh made the decision to keep him at home. She works at a garment factory and has worked late hours to ensure Mr Singh is helped.

A Social Welfare payment does help with medicine, but issues like getting a transport to come into the settlement and hiring someone to look after the elderly man are problems the family have not been able to deal with.

Fiji is a secular state and Fijians across the board have been able to observe not only cultures but have shared religious doctrines. It does not matter what religion one belongs to, the moral teachings of most if not all mirror each other.

However, it is quite concerning when leaders of religious bodies do not share the same principles their religion is supposed to.

Mr Prasad of Sanatan Dharam said they will discuss the issue of Mr Singh in their national council meeting and maybe help him. He further said on record that Mr Singh was not injured at work.

While Mr Prasad maintained this claim, many others including former office bearers and current staff of the religious body have said otherwise.

The law is pretty clear regarding this. Under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, an employer is liable to pay compensation to a ‘workman’ (or in the case of death, his or her dependents) for any personal injury or death by accident that arises out of or in the course of employment, regardless of fault.

Edited by Susana Tuilau

Feedback: shalveen.chand@fijisun.com.fj

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