The Colombo District Court order to the BMICH to pay Rs.187 million with legal interest to Dr. Samitha Samanmalee, who was paralysed after a marquee at the BMICH premises collapsed on her in 2008 when she was a medical student, was no doubt a landmark judgment.
It becomes a landmark judgment not because of the magnitude of the compensation awarded to the victim but rather, it gains significance by its strong precedence to the recognition of the citizens’ rights for which do not fight.
Rights are violated everywhere, at homes, in schools, workplaces, buses, trains, police stations and even in hospitals on a daily basis. In most cases passive tolerance has been the response of the victims to these violations. Victims feel the injustice, but in most cases do not feel it a contravention of their rights.
For instance, buses unbearably prolong their stay at halting places holding passengers hostage, but rarely do passengers protest. The normal response has been to let the passenger sitting or standing next to him or her know their frustration with a whisper or a murmur. Only once -- some ten years ago -- a bus passenger who had booked a seat in a bus and found that the bus had left when he reached the terminal had successfully challenged it through a law suit and the bus company had to pay him a million rupees as compensation.
There have been instances where patients have died or lost their limbs or been left disabled due to the negligence of doctors at private as well as government hospitals. For instance, the media reported several years ago that the left leg of a woman had been amputated instead of her right leg which had an infected wound. But we never heard of justice being meted out to her, nor had she fought for her rights.
The negligence in Samitha’s case had been far remoter than that of the amputation case, but the woman was left high and dry due to the lack of support to her by the community in finding redress.
Samitha was paralysed after the marquee erected by a third party for the Deyata Kirula exhibition collapsed on her in 2008. The damages were ordered to be paid not by the third party that erected the marquee, but by the BMICH on the grounds that the BMICH administration was liable to provide a ‘safe environment’ and owed a ‘duty of care’ to visitors to the premises.
This ruling is applicable to the incident where a passenger was killed when the footboard of a compartment of a moving train suddenly collapsed a few years ago. In a similar incident a small girl was killed some time ago when the rotten floor of the school van she was travelling in suddenly sank.The community never supported these victims as in the case of Dr. Samitha and the incidents were only tragic reminiscences for the families of the victims.The aspect of right of the victim was totally ignored by the community as well as the victims’ poor families in those cases.
It goes without saying that the lack of awareness on the part of society as a whole and its members as individuals about their rights is the main reason for the lackadaisical attitude towards the fight for our rights. It is pathetic to note that rulers in the recent past apparently did not like to see a society with awareness of their rights. Several IGOs had to conceal their topics when they conducted workshops for journalists on rights last year, and several such workshops were disrupted by the politically motivated mobs.
The judgment on Samitha’s case calls on civil society organisations to resume their initiatives to educate society on the rights of its members. It also encourages the community to support victims of human rights violations to fight for their rights.
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