Only the minuscule Christian community living in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is forced into manual scavenging, reported The New York Times. They work under inhuman conditions and have to clean clogged sewers without masks or gloves. As such, there has been a surge in the number of deaths of Christian sewer cleaners.
While manual scavenging has been banned in India (although prevalent in some parts of the country), reportedly, the Muslim-majority State of Pakistan encourages such a dehumanising practice. It is important to mention that the Pakistan army put out a bigoted advertisement last year, asking only Non-Muslims to apply for the post of sanitary workers.
Non-Muslim Sanitation workers
Municipalities in Pakistan rely heavily on Christians for manual scavenging as Muslims refuse to clean the gutters and the Christian minorities have few other employment options. According to one estimate by the rights group, even though Christians constitute 1.6% of the population, they account for 80% sanitation workers.
The rest 20% comprises of Dalits who constitute the overwhelming majority of Hindus in Pakistan. Illiteracy and lack of alternate sources of income have pushed these Pakistani minorities with no other options but to clean drains clogged with faeces and medical waste to earn a meagre living.
The job is life-threatening as workers become vulnerable to respiratory and skin disorders. The stench of sewage remains with them throughout the day and they are paid very less.
They live in neighbourhoods infested with mosquitoes, garbage, and cockroaches. Several sewer cleaners die of asphyxiation in deep gutters and it becomes an uphill task to recover such bodies. Reportedly, doctors even refuse to medically examine sanitation workers for being “unclean” and “untouchable.”
Minorities in Pakistan
Discrimination against religious minorities is rampant in Pakistan, even though the state denies its existence. The discrimination is visible even during the coronavirus crisis. Earlier, the Sindh Government had issued orders to local NGOs to distribute ration to poor daily-wage workers and labourers. However, the Hindus and Christians were singled out and denied their fair share of the ration by a Karachi-based NGO, Saylani Welfare Trust.
Hindus of Sindh region are also under the constant threat of forced conversions and kidnappings. Underage Hindu girls are frequently kidnapped by local Muslim men, often with the active support from Imams and clerics. The girls are then forcefully converted, married off to men much older in age. The local Imams issue a marriage certificate that is then used in police station and courts to claim that the girl has embraced Islam out of her will and can no longer be sent to her family.