Christians relegated to manual sewer cleaning

The predominantly Christian sewer workers in Pakistan regularly risk their lives to unclog sewers with their bare hands, while they face daily discrimination for participating in the dangerous labour, the South China Morning Mail SCMP) reported on Wednesday.

Citing an original report by Agence France-Presse (AFP), the SCMP on April 6 detailed the daily toil of a Christian sanitation worker in Lahore named Shafiq Masih.

“Every day, the 44-year-old has to go down the sewer to clear up dark, smelly sludge. He has to contend with toxic gases and various pollutants,” the newspaper said.

Masih is a Christian in Pakistan, which considers Islam the official state religion. In addition to severe discrimination against his Muslim compatriots because of his religious beliefs, Masih has been practically forced into a humiliating job by the anti-Christian society in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s federal government regularly funds job postings stating that “male cleaning jobs are reserved for ‘non-Muslims’, and the Center for Law and Justice (CLJ), a local NGO, has identified nearly 300 such announcements over the past decade” , AFP reported on April 5.

Islamic purity beliefs underlie Pakistan’s discriminatory practice of funneling non-Muslims, including Hindus, into the country’s sanitation sector.

Most Pakistani Christians are descended from lower-caste Indian Hindus who converted to Christianity “during the British colonial era in hopes of escaping a system that often forced them into a life of toil, almost from birth” , according to AFP.

The minority makes up less than two percent of Pakistan’s population of 227 million people, although they are according to data from the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR).

The rest of Pakistan’s sanitation jobs are mainly filled by Hindus, who make up an estimated 1.9 percent of the national population.

According to figures from CLJ, at least 10 people have died in Pakistan’s public sewage system since 2019.

“In October [2021] in Sargodha, two Christian sewer workers died rescuing a third who had been forced by his Muslim supervisors into a sewer that he knew was full of poisonous gas,” AFP recalled on April 5.

“Their families filed a complaint for criminal negligence – a first in the country – but agreed to an out-of-court settlement,” the news agency said.

The October 2021 incident was reminiscent of a previous sewage tragedy in Pakistan involving three Christian workers in July 2017.

In this photo, taken on March 10, 2022, workers from the Christian community of Lahore Waste Management Company are cleaning a street in Lahore. (Photo by ARIF ALI/AFP via Getty Images)

Saleem Masih, 50; Danish Masih, 20; and Nadeem Masih, 18, were all working as janitors at a public school in Pakistan’s Punjab province when they were tasked with clearing a blockage in a local sewer system. All three men died trying to unclog the drain system after being ambushed by a wave of toxic fumes. The men reportedly anticipated the danger of the sewer before descending, but were not provided with protective equipment by their government-funded employers.

A month earlier, in Pakistan’s Sindh province, a 35-year-old sewer worker died after falling ill on the job and being refused treatment by Muslim doctors. The doctors refused to treat the victim – who had been exposed to toxic fumes coming from a sewer – because the incident took place during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The medics claimed it would have been unclean at the time to come into contact with a sanitation worker.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.