In Pakistan, most Christians are relegated to lowliest, demeaning jobs
SINCE THE PARTITION OF BRITISH INDIA IN 1947 AND THE CREATION OF PAKISTAN, most of the Christians in Pakistan have been assigned jobs seen as degrading and defiling. Job advertisements published by both provincial governments and security establishments are inviting applications solely from non-Muslims for sanitation posts, stigmatizing the Christian community. Today, 80 percent of sanitation workers are Christians whereas they are only 1.5 percent of the 220 million population.
Last January, the National Commission for Human Rights launched an awareness-raising campaign through print and digital media, featuring a series of online posts highlighting discriminatory advertisements for sanitation workers, as well as a focus on the deaths of sanitary workers.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, Ibrar Younas Sahotra, a Catholic who has worked for the Faisalabad Waste Management Company (FWMC) since 1993, describes the ordeals of Christian sanitary workers:
“In 27 years of service, I have observed that they prefer Christians only as sweepers not as managers. This prejudice runs deep in society even among those educated.
“In absence of an office where a manager can take daily roll call, the sanitary workers have to sit on the ground. The supervisor grabs a chair from a nearby shop while the workers look for a brick for a place to sit. It’s been five years since the department handed out brooms, shovels, and cartwheels to the workers. Broken brooms are replaced with personal money. We are already overworked and underpaid.
“Payment of salary is usually delayed till the middle of the month. A few Muslims are hired but they hardly appear on duty. Christians are hired as daily wagers on contracts of 89 days. They do not get benefits like pensions or health insurance. Six months ago, I filed a case in labor court on behalf of 1900 Christian sanitary workers on daily wages. It’s still pending.
“Working hours are doubled during Eid al-Adha (the annual Muslim festival of sacrifice). People dump animal waste near overfilled garbage containers. The sanitary workers get a bonus up to 5000 rupees (US$ 2.79) during Eid. We also thank our department for giving us an hour off a day during Lent. Two annual leaves are designated for Easter and Christmas.
“The inhuman attitude worsens in hot periods. Most of the people refuse to offer workers water in their utensils. Some resort to offering tea in empty beverage bottles.
“People call us chuhra (a pejorative caste-based term meaning low caste, sweeper, or janitor). Sometimes it leads to clashes in community. Several workers have submitted complaints to FWMC regarding the discrimination they face, but to no avail. The Prophet has termed cleanliness as ‘half of faith,’ but the sanitary workers get no respect.
“Witnessing all this up close and personal, I worked hard for the higher education of my five children. Three of them have Master’s degrees and are now married.
“To acknowledge these blessings from God, I joined St. Jerome Bible study group of Holy Rosary Catholic Church, located at a walk of seven minutes from my home in Warispura, a Christian suburb of Faisalabad city.
“Since 2014, we have been organizing Bible marathons (reciting the whole Bible) during Lent season in two Churches. Families in these parishes are assigned two hours study that concludes at nine in the evening. The practice is similar to the Islamic tradition of Khatam e Quran.
“Separately Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are dedicated for reflection on the Holy Bible throughout the year. More than 30 members of our group include students, women, and elders. Thank God we have been successful in bring people closer to the Bible.
“This December, we had 120 groups and more than a thousand faithful reciting the whole Bible; each group did an hour, reading particular passages. The daily readings are broadcast on Facebook live. These holy meetings give peace of mind amid the challenges of life.”