New Delhi: Jitendra Singh Khalsa was a devout Sikh. A non-smoker, he didn’t drink and seemed in the best of health. On 11 September 2013, Khalsa left for Qatar to work for a large oil and gas company, according to his brother Dilip Singh. A little over two months later, Dilip Singh was informed that his brother had died suddenly. Official records said the cause of death was respiratory failure and cardiac arrest. Apparently Khalsa died at the Doha International Airport. He was 38 years old.
“The company called us 24 hours after my brother’s death and informed that he was on his way home when he had the heart attack, at the airport. It is quite unlike him to not call us beforehand and inform about coming home,” said Dilip Singh.
“His passport was still with the company and his luggage was in his room, as we later found out from other workers who managed to get back to India. The company said they took him to the hospital, but we now know that none of the hospitals have records of my brother being admitted.”
Desperate for information, Khalsa’s family is refusing to receive his body until an autopsy is conducted and airport CCTV footage is provided to them. They cannot understand how Jitendra Singh Khalsa could have dropped dead so suddenly. His body remains in a mortuary in Doha, and the family claims it is being pressurized by the Indian government to sign a “no-objection certificate” and claim the body.
In response, Sanjiv Arora, India’s ambassador to Qatar, said a medical examiner’s report had been filed with the embassy, listing the cause of death as natural, and that the family had asked for a formal enquiry to take place. “I fully respect the family’s decision,” he said.
It may never be clear whether Jitendra Singh Khalsa’s death was indeed the result of a heart attack, but the story his family tells is consistent with many of the accounts from bereaved families of migrant labourers working in Qatar and other West Asian countries, according to human rights groups.
In recent months, data on the death rate of migrant workers in the Gulf has caused worldwide alarm.
For Jitendra Singh Khalsa’s brother Dilip Singh, however, the response from the authorities has been hopelessly inept. He says the government has abandoned his family and his brother.
“Over the past three months, I have knocked on every door for justice. I have written to President, Prime Minister, MEA (ministry of external affairs), even the Gurudwara Committee,” he said.
“If our people, our government does not help us, who will we turn to?”