Despite repeated demands by the minority Christian community and assurances by authorities to end the publication of discriminatory advertisements by government departments, another advert has specified only Christians to apply for the post of sanitary worker in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP) Bannu district.
“Only Christians can apply for the post,” read the eligibility criteria tabulated next to the vacant post of a sweeper in the advertisement by the executive engineer of Bannu’s Highway Division.
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.
Earlier this year, the National Commission for Human Rights launched a campaign to protest discriminatory advertisements for the recruitment of sanitary workers.
The campaign featured 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.
‘SHAME AND STIGMA IN SANITATION’
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.