The minority Christian community in Pakistan has voiced concern and anguish over the repeated publication of discriminatory advertisements by government departments specifying only non-Muslims to apply for the post of sanitary worker.
In a public application in response to an advertisement issued recently by the District Health Authority of Rahim Yar Khan district in which it had sought non-Muslims to apply for the post of sanitary workers, Dr Simon Azariah, a UK-based health systems management and governance specialist, stated:
“I am completely eligible for this esteemed position as I am a member of the minority community of Pakistan and I am grateful that you have made it clear that the skill of cleanliness is only with the minority community and none of the 98% of the members of majority community in Pakistan have the requisite skills and attitude towards cleanliness and therefore they can only create trash. It is up to us to clean the mess.
“It would be most opportune for me to work at this important position that you have specially created for the uplift of the minorities in Pakistan for which it is impossible to find good people these days in the vast overwhelming overpopulated and congested majority community of Pakistan. It is a very benevolent action of yours for which you will be rewarded highly in the afterlife.”
READ MORE: National Commission for Minorities struggles for legitimacy
In a tweet regarding the ad, Minorities Alliance Pakistan (MAP) said, “We condemn this shameful act of district authority. Why sweeping is attached with religious minority by Punjab Government.”
#religiousdiscrimination. Why sweeping is attached with religious minority by Punjab Government.@ImranKhanPTI @ShireenMazari1 @EUPakistan @AKaminara @akmalbhattimap @Qamarrafiquk @UsmanAKBuzdar @GovtofPunjabPK @CMPunjabPK @CHIEF_CHANNEL @BBCUrdu @BBhuttoZardari @sherryrehman pic.twitter.com/TzRvw8uarR
— Minorites Alliance Pakistan (MAP) (@AllianceMap) February 11, 2022
“These people will never refrain. No matter how many orders are passed by the Supreme Court. There should be a proper law against such people,” stated J.J. George, a former advocate of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, in a Facebook post.
Some 80 percent of sanitation workers in Pakistan are Christians despite them making up just 2 percent of the general population, according to a study by WaterAid.
Most of 9,000 employees of Lahore Waste Management Company are Christians. Similarly, 1,600 employees of the Water and Sanitation Agency are Christians.
They are often referred to as Chuhra (low caste), a pejorative term reserved 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.
Road sweepers in Pakistan are mostly Christians and are also referred to by other abusive slurs in local languages.
Job advertisements published by both provincial governments and security establishments inviting applications from non-Muslims for sanitation posts often discriminate against the community.
Church of Pakistan Moderator/President Bishop Dr Azad Marshall also condemned the publication of discriminatory job ads.
“It is extremely heart-wrenching for the entire community and the government must end this practice. Our people have contributed greatly in health, education, defense and other sectors but tagging Christians only for sanitation work is quite discouraging for the community,” he said.
Cecil Chaudhry, South Asia deputy team leader of Christian Solidarity Worldwide UK, held the bureaucracy responsible for the trend of discriminatory advertisements.
“In 2015, former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif issued a notification to exclude the controversial clause regarding non-Muslim sweepers from Punjab service rules. However, there was no institutional backup. There is no intent,” he said.
“Specifying sanitation jobs only for Christians even discriminates against Muslims. All citizens of Pakistan deserve equal job opportunities,” he added.
Last month, the National Commission for Human Rights launched a campaign to protest discriminatory advertisements for the recruitment of sanitary workers.
The campaign features sharing awareness messages through print, electronic and digital media, a series of online posts on discriminatory advertisements for sanitation workers, information on the government’s quota system, and highlighting the deaths of sanitary workers.
The NCHR also announced a plan to file a suit against the government to remove discriminatory language from advertisements for sanitary workers.
On Jan 12, the Islamabad High Court issued notices to various ministries on a writ petition seeking a ban on job advertisements that specifically reserve the post of “sweepers” for members of the minority communities, particularly Christians.
The petition moved by National Commission for Minorities Member Albert David stated that specifying Christians and other minorities for the position of “sweepers” in government, semi-government, and private job ads were promoting discrimination against the religious minorities and increasing the sense of deprivation in the marginalized and vulnerable communities.
The petition added that such discriminatory job ads were also in violation of the Constitution of Pakistan that guaranteed equal rights to all citizens of the country regardless of their religion, caste, and creed.
In Dec. 2021, Attock became the first district in Pakistan to ban a derogatory slur inflicted on sanitary workers. In a notification issued human rights day, vice-chairman of Municipal Committee MC Attock district Malik Tahir Awan barred “all citizens, officers and employees of MC” from using the word Chuhra.
Talking to Kross Konnection, Shunila Ruth, parliamentary secretary for the ministry of religious affairs and interfaith harmony, strongly condemned these advertisements.
“I have repeatedly raised voice against it. State departments are doing wrong. We need to change this mindset. I am shocked that our people still need these seats. We need to educate and give awareness to people,” she said.
The proponents of Sweepers Are Superheroes, Pakistan’s first advocacy campaign to outline social attitudes and working conditions of sanitary workers, shared similar views.
In 2019, Christian researcher Asif Aqeel co-authored “Shame and Stigma in Sanitation,” report about more than 100 sanitary workers, exploring challenges in sanitation labor, safety practices, medical security, associated religious overtones and sanitation departments.
“We have collected 290 such advertisements. Sadly the state strengthens this narrative through advertisements requiring non-Muslims, including Christians and Hindus. Even today the people of untouchables are required for this job. The state is not serious in even identifying discriminatory policies,” he said during an interview with Kross Konnection.