Dark cloud over Thaqif case

WHEN the nation bid goodbye to Thaqif following his tragic death in late April, it was done with a solemn prayer that he would rest in peace. After going through a horrendous ordeal, Thaqif deserved to be at peace with his Maker. We can only empathise by ensuring that "justice" will be duly served.

The case seemed "straightforward" enough to implicate violence as the probable cause of his death. This even prompted the police to reclassify the case as "murder" with the person (a former convict) involved being brought to court on that count and subsequently released on bail. Many were impressed at the speed the case was handled giving the "right" signal that such an incident is not to be treated lightly or repeated.

The Ministry of Education announced its intention to rein in such events by having the type of schools involved registered for ease of monitoring. Again a heart-warming gesture.

The Ministry of Health set up a committee to investigate the "cause" of death given that Thaqif's legs had to be amputated.

The case is full of surprises. The first "twist" came when the body had to be exhumed about 23 days after his burial. Was something "overlooked"?

In any case most took it in "good faith" with the understanding that the issue was a complex one. In fact, had he lived longer there was a possibility that his arms would have been amputated too. Thus the need to exhume the body seemed a reasonable one in the effort to arrive at a speedy closure. The family reportedly agreed for this to be done after being officially approached by the Health Ministry.

Fast forward, about three months after the event, comes another "twist". The ministry reckoned that Thaqif lost his life as a result of "leptospirosis" – simply put, rat urine disease. Although this is not new here, this suggestion was rejected by Thaqif's parents, and a "denial" from the school that he was infected while under its care. The public was baffled by the way the announcement was made. The family claim that they got to know about the new cause of death through the mass media. It must have been heartbreaking for them!

Similar claims were reportedly echoed by Hospital Sultanah Aminah and the Johor Health, Environment, Information and Education Committee. In both cases the issue of a so-called "new" strain of leptospirosis that was supposedly found in Thaqif's body was cause for contention. The former felt it should not be made public, while the latter said the report was "unfounded as there was no confirmation about a new strain". Ambiguity like these from the health fraternity raises even more questions than answers, particularly when the diagnosis made on his admission to the hospital gave not even a hint of leptospirosis.

Needless to say, all these could have been avoided if only more thought was given before the announcement, assuming that the conduct of the investigation was nothing less than par excellence.

Even in TV soap operas we see how the patient's loved ones are the first to be informed upon finding any new medical concerns. Especially one related to some "unexpected" piece of news so that any fear could be allayed and clarification be better made to clear whatever doubts that may arise. This is exactly what was voiced out in the press. "I am his mother. I have the right to be properly informed of the results," Thaqif's mother was reported saying. This common sense approach was wasted, instead causing more anxiety and bitterness to an already tense situation. How the good practice of respecting the privacy of the family (before blurting it out to the public) was missed by professionals, is inconceivable (compare to the Kim Jong-nam case).

More so when the announcement failed to address as to why the well publicised earlier allegation linking the death (read murder) to the beating by the school assistant warden was conveniently nullified. This means that the case is now less serious, having to reclassify it yet again into anything but murder. Subtly the implications in the quest for "real" justice can be huge.

Fortunately, reports indicate that the police will not let down their intention to continue investigating despite the second "twist". They will not rule out physical abuse consistent with its previous claim giving "real" justice a chance.

Still, at the end of it all we are faced with the grave reality of a drawn out court case given the many uncertainties and ambiguities surrounding the handling of the tragedy, especially after the announcement.

If so this is extremely saddening considering that Thaqif's name will be bandied about publicly once again putting to question the "peaceful" state that all of us wished for him when he was laid to rest.

As parents we can almost feel the hurt and pain at the prospect of his name being taken vain in the defence of some of the ruthless and inhumane actions that he had been subjected to not only while he was alive, but even after he has left us. Worse off when all of these are now attributed to rats and their urine.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that "another world is possible". Comments: letters@thesundaily.com