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ICC Note:

For generations, Christians in Pakistan have been discriminated against, often being forced to live on the lowest rung of the country’s social ladder. This discrimination is alive and well in Pakistan’s job hiring practices which reserve only the filthiest and lowliest jobs for Christians and other religious minorities. This discrimination has a long history in Pakistan going back to before Pakistan was even a country. With better awareness of this history, will Pakistan be able to change and someday reverse this discrimination?    

10/23/2015 Pakistan (Friday Times) – On September 28, the Punjab Cardiology Hospital issued a corrigendum stating that both Muslims and non-Muslims were eligible for sanitation-related jobs. Earlier on September 17, the hospital, in an advertisement in several newspapers, had stated “Only Non-Muslims persons [sic] who belong to minorities will be accommodated” for the sanitation work. The corrigendum had appeared after the initial advertisement drew criticism on social media and coverage from BBC Urdu on the treatment meted out to minority communities.

This was not the first time that the government reserved sanitation posts for non-Muslims. The Mandi Bahauddin DHQ Hospital, on September 18, publicized ten vacancies. Sanitation jobs were reserved for minorities. In June, a similar advertisement was issued by the Lady Wellington Hospital in Lahore, requiring only “non-Muslims” for this work.

Christians make up most of the non-Muslim minority in central Punjab and account for 1.5 per cent of the total population. Their representation in sanitation work, however, is above 80 percent. Data collected by World Watch Monitor states that 824 out of 935 sanitation workers in the Peshawar Municipal Corporation are Christian. About 6,000 out of 7,894 sanitation workers in the Lahore Waste Management Company are Christian. And 768 out of 978 workers in the Quetta Municipal Corporation are Christian. 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.

The United Nations describes this as “discrimination based on work and descent” because “any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on inherited status such as caste, including present or ancestral occupation, family, community or social origin, name, birthplace, place of residence, dialect and accent … is typically associated with the notion of purity and pollution.”

Historically, the “untouchables’ ranked below the Shudra or kammi (laborer). They were assigned occupations described as “degrading” and “defiling”, that is: collecting carcasses, manually removing human excreta from lavatories, providing cheap labor in fields and executing criminals on the orders of the state. It was Tara Masih, a Christian, who carried out Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s execution in 1979 and Masih’s father had hanged independence movement hero Bhagat Singh in 1931. Masih’s nephew Sabir Masih has executed more than 180 convicts since the moratorium on the death penalty was lifted following the attack on Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16 last year.

The International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) notes that discrimination based on work and descent affects an estimated 260 million people worldwide, the vast majority living in South Asia. “It involves violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Caste systems divide people into unequal and hierarchical social groups. Those at the bottom are considered lesser human beings, impure and polluting to other caste groups.”

The IDSN further notes that the “untouchables” are “often forcibly assigned the most dirty, menial and hazardous jobs, and many are subjected to forced and bonded labor”. There are 3 to 7 million bonded laborers in Punjab and a very high percentage of them are Christians. The couple burned in a brick kiln in Kasur last November were Christian.

The pure (Persian pak) and impure (Persian paleed) dichotomy permeated the Muslim mind in the subcontinent due to their close proximity with Hindus. Afghan, Turk, Arab and Persian Muslims called themselves ashraf (noble) and local converts, especially from lower castes, were called ajlaf (the lowly).

The Aligarh Movement inherited this dichotomy and named the country Pakistan: the “Land of the Pure”. The attitude of forcing Christians into degrading occupations based on their descent continues and owes its existence to this long-entrenched dichotomy of “pure” and “impure”.

Professor Salamat Akhtar, a former professor of history at Gordon College in Rawalpindi, says that as president of the All Pakistan College Teachers’ Association, he met the education secretary in Islamabad in 1980. “Not knowing I was a Christian, he said the government was worried that a large number of Christians were obtaining education… If all Christians were educated, then no one would be left to sweep the roads and pick up the garbage.”

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