Indian family’s questions about a migrant worker’s death in Qatar

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 10:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 10:31pm

Jitender Singh Khalsa always rang his daughter before a trip home from the Gulf to ask what toys and chocolates she wanted.

But in November, the phone call that came was on behalf of his latest employer, Qcon, a contractor to oil, gas and power companies in Qatar, informing his family that he was dead.

We've sent 25 bodies back to India this month [November] and 29 bodies last month. You should sign the release and get on with it
An official at India's Doha embassy

Three months on, Khalsa's family say they have received no help from the Indian or Qatari authorities in establishing what happened. Instead, they have been pressured to sign a release requesting the return of Khalsa's body, and offered an insurance settlement from Qcon of £1,800 (HK$23,320).

According to Surjit Kaur, Khalsa's mother, an official at India's Doha embassy said: "We've sent 25 bodies back to India this month [November] and 29 bodies last month. You should sign the release and get on with it."

The circumstances of Khalsa's death are disputed. Qcon maintains he was found dead from heart and respiratory failure at Doha airport on November 25. His family questioned why, if he was at the airport, he did not have luggage or his passport.

The family say they have evidence from his colleagues and a Doha hospital that he was taken by ambulance from Qcon's facilities. They suspect he may have been poisoned by hydrogen sulphide gas, a toxic compound extracted from natural gas.

"One gentleman who worked with my brother came to our house in Mumbai after his death and gave us the carry bag from the hospital where he was admitted," Dilip Singh Khalsa, Jitender's brother, said. "I also spoke to the hospital and a receptionist confirmed he'd been admitted, but then the doctor refused to speak to me about why he died."

While the facts remain unclear, Dilip Khalsa is refusing to repatriate his brother's body without a postmortem examination and a police report. The family have appealed in vain to Indian authorities in Doha, as well as India's external affairs ministry and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's office.

"It's been three months and we're not getting any response from our government," said Dilip Khalsa bitterly. "Should we contact the president of America to help us instead?"