In what is being seen as a welcoming move, Punjab has become the first province in the country to ban the word “Chuhra”, a derogatory slur used for sanitary workers, a majority of them Christians.
In a notification issued on International Human Rights Day on Dec 10, Attock district Municipal Committee Vice-Chairman Malik Tahir Awan stated: “All citizens, officers and employees of MC (Municipal Committee) Attock are informed that from now onwards sanitary workers will not be called by the word of chuhra. Legal action will be taken against the violators.”
“Officers should not only respect their subordinates but also sensitize them to give importance and respect to the general public,” the notification added.
Meanwhile, Waqas Amjad, the focal person for the minister of local bodies and community development in Punjab, launched a campaign on Twitter to select “a good name” for sweepers.
Some 80 percent of sanitation workers in Pakistan are Christians despite them making up just two percent of the general population, according to a study by WaterAid.
According to a media report, Pakistani Christians are often referred to as Chuhra (low caste), a derogatory term used for sanitation workers, which refers to their past as members of the subcontinent’s Hindu Chuhra caste that is historically associated with the sweeping profession.
Even though many among them converted to Islam and Christianity, they continue to suffer the same treatment at the hands of their co-religionists and are assigned jobs seen as degrading and defiling, the report added.
Road sweepers in Pakistan are mostly Christians and are also referred to by other abusive slurs in local languages.
According to the report, in 2018, minority members of the Punjab Assembly protested against a Muslim lawmaker Arif Abbasi for calling a Christian parliamentarian “Chuhra” during a heated discussion on the budget.
Job advertisements published by both provincial governments and security establishments inviting applications from non-Muslims for sanitation posts often discriminate against the community, the report added.
Sweepers Are Superheroes, Pakistan’s first advocacy campaign to outline social attitudes and working conditions of sanitary workers, shared the latest notification on its Facebook page.
“Very encouraging to see that government officials are trying to break the stigma attached with our sanitation heroes. Whatever name/title is chosen for sweepers, it should be coupled with dignity and respect,” it stated.
Center for Law and Justice Executive Director Mary James Gill, who launched the campaign in 2019, thanked the Punjab government for setting a “very good example.”
“The derogatory term of churha is the first foundation of insult, hatred and discrimination aimed at minority Christians. The rest of the municipalities should set this deterrence. Thankfully, awareness is increasing in our society. We only demand acceptance and dignity,” she told the media outlet.