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Christian sweepers dominate sanitation jobs as religious discrimination persists in Pakistan

A church in Pakistan (Photo: IANS)

Discrimination against Christians remains strong across Pakistan as jobs related to sweeping and cleaning of sewers continue to go to the minority community.

An increase in the Christian sanitary cleaners in Pakistan shows that the community in unable to rise over social and work-related discrimination. The 1998 census showed that Christians constitute barely 1.6 per cent of Pakistan's population but held 80 per cent of the sanitary positions.

In the video, Senator Danish Kumar of the Balochistan Awami Party highlights how Pakistani establishments invite only minorities for jobs in sanitation departments.

Pakistani newspaper, The Nation says that in the past, when authorities in Karachi attempted to hire Muslims to clean gutters, many refused to go down into the sewers, preferring to sweep the streets instead. "The Christian cleaners have kept the sewer system moving in Karachi’s enormous port metropolis by unclogging decaying drainpipes of feces and dangerous hospital waste", says the newspaper.

Due to the nature of their work–spending hours in the sewers of the city and being exposed to pollutants, many develop chronic respiratory and skin illnesses. Doctors do not treat them because of the stigma and also because they are low down in the caste and class order.

Though officially Pakistan denies the existance of discrimination, jobs for cleaning sewers have been reserved for non-Muslims. Institutions like the Pakistani army and hospitals advertise for menial jobs mentioning clearly that these are reserved only for minorities.

The discrimination is rampant and prevelant among politicians. The district council of Swabi in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa passed a resolution in January 2021 mandating that all sweepers hired in the district's hospitals must be Christians.

The resolution, moved by Akmal Khan, a member of Prime Minister Imran Khan's party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), said that Muslims working as sweepers should be promoted as guards or peons while their jobs can be filled up by the Christian minority. If Pakistani institutions cannot find enough Christians for sanitation work, the jobs go to Hindus–another widely persecuted minority community.

Quoting the World Watch Monitor, The Friday Times newspaper says that almost all the municipal corporations across Pakistan employ Christian sanitation workers. This ranges from the Peshawar Municipal Corporation to the Lahore Waste Management Company as well as the Quetta Municipal Corporation.

"Islamabad’s Capital Development Authority (CDA) has 1,500 sanitation workers and all of them are Christian. Christians also have a very high representation in Gilgit and Karachi municipal corporations", says the newspaper.

In a widely reported incident recently, Karachi food Chain Delizia refused to write "Merry Christmas" on a cake for a Christian customer. Highlighting the muted celebrations that the minority community holds on Christmas eve in Pakistan, the Dawn newspaper said: "Christmas is hardly a big occasion in Pakistan. More than two million Pakistani Christians celebrate it guardedly, with few from the Muslim majority joining them".

The Pakistani Christians not only brave the stink in their daily jobs but also suffer kidnapping of girls, forcible conversions, snatching of land and targeted violence.