Pakistan’s mostly Christian sewage workers regularly risk their lives to clear the sewer system with their bare hands while enduring public discrimination on a daily basis for participating in the dangerous work South China tomorrow post (SCMP) reported on Wednesday.
Citing an original report by Agence France-Presse (AFP), the SCMP on April 6 details the daily work of a Christian sanitation worker in Lahore named Shafiq Masih.
“Every day, the 44-year-old has to go into the sewers to clean up dark, stinking mud. He has to contend with toxic gases and various pollutants,” the newspaper said.
Masih is a Christian in Pakistan, which recognizes Islam as the official state religion. Masih not only faced severe discrimination from his fellow Muslims because of his religious beliefs, but was practically forced into a degrading job by Pakistan’s anti-Christian society.
The federal government of Pakistan regularly funds job advertisements stating that “light cleaning jobs are reserved for ‘non-Muslims’, with the Center for Law and Justice (CLJ), a local NGO, identifying nearly 300 such advertisements over the past decade ” reported AFP April 5.
Islamic belief in purity underlies Pakistan’s discriminatory practice of channeling non-Muslims, including Hindus, into the country’s sanitation sector.
Most Pakistani Christians are descended from low-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 hardship,” according to AFP.
The minority make up less than two percent of Pakistan’s 227 million people, although according to the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) they “represent more than 80 percent of jobs in Pakistan in garbage collection, sewage works and street cleaning”.
The rest of Pakistan’s sanitary posts are mostly occupied by Hindus, who make up an estimated 1.9 percent of the national population.
At least ten people have died in Pakistan’s publicly maintained sewers since 2019, according to CLJ.
“In October  In Sargodha, two Christian sewage workers died while rescuing a third who had been forced by his Muslim superiors to enter a sewer he knew was full of poison gas,” AFP recalled on April 5.
“Their families filed a criminal negligence complaint – a first in the country – but agreed to an out-of-court settlement,” the news outlet said.
The October 2021 incident recalled a previous sewer tragedy in Pakistan involving three Christian workers in July 2017.
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 ordered to unclog a local sewage system. All three men died attempting to unblock the drainage system after being hit by a wave of toxic fumes. The men reportedly foresaw the danger of the sewers before descending, but were denied protective equipment by their publicly funded employers.
A month earlier, a 35-year-old sewer worker died in Pakistan’s Sindh province after falling ill while on the job and being denied treatment by Muslim doctors. Doctors refused to treat the victim, who was exposed to toxic fumes from a sewer, because the incident happened during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Doctors at the time claimed it was unclean to come into contact with a sanitation worker.