Another Christian Sewer Cleaner in Pakistan Dies Due to Dangerous Work Conditions

ICC Note:

Another Christian sewer worker in Pakistan has died due to dangerous working conditions. Shahzad Masih, 24, died this past weekend after inhaling toxic gases while cleaning a blocked sewer line in Karachi. In recent months, several Christians have died due to unsafe working conditions afforded sewer workers. Due to widespread religious discrimination, Christians make up a disproportionate majority of Pakistan’s sanitation services. According to a report by World Watch Monitor, Christians make up 80% of Pakistan’s janitorial workforce. This is despite the fact that they only make up 1.5% of the country’s population. Because Christians make up a majority of Pakistan’s sewer workers, poor working conditions are allowed to persist. How many more Christians have to die in Pakistan’s sewers for improvements in working conditions to be made? 

01/28/2018 Pakistan (World Watch Monitor) – A Pakistani Christian, who fell ill after inhaling poisonous gasses at work, died on Saturday (20 January) after three days on a life-support machine.

Shahzad Masih, 24, who leaves a wife and two young children, worked as a sewer cleaner in the Korangi area of the southern city of Karachi, as an irregular employee (so not entitled to any compensation or privileges) of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board.

Masih’s cousin, Yousuf Masih, who is also a sewer cleaner, told World Watch Monitor that on 17 January their supervisor had sent Shahzad to help unblock a gutter in a nearby area.

“Only a little later we came to know that he became unconscious after he was sent down in the gutter,” Yousuf said. “We took him to the nearby Indus Hospital, but they told us that he had been placed on a ventilator and then was sent by ambulance to the Creek General Hospital, where he died on Saturday.”

Shahzad’s father, Mansha, told World Watch Monitor that his family moved to Karachi three years ago from Gujranwala in the Punjab region.

They live in Nasir Colony, where there are a good number of Christians. “The street where we live is known as Church Street because there is a church,” Mansha said, explaining how local Christians carved out a neighborhood for themselves in the Muslim-majority area.

“Shahzad started working as a sewer man about ten months ago,” his father said. “Before that, he was working in a factory, but that work was on and off. Here it was continuous, though he had still not been made an official employee.”

Mansha, in his sixties, also worked as a cleaner, but his health suffered and he is no longer able to work. Those who work as cleaners or sweepers in Pakistan are everyday exposed to dust, disease and dangerous gasses.

“I was working as a sewer man in the Cantonment Board Karachi, but now I am suffering asthma so I cannot work anymore,” Mansha explained.

After Shahzad’s death, his family say they don’t know how they will be able to take care of his three-year-old son, Michael, and 18-month-old daughter, Neha, because their mother is a stay-at-home mum and illiterate.

“The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board Executive Engineer, Akhtar Jaleel Bajwa, has promised that Masih’s wife will be provided a job as a janitor in lieu of her husband,” Mansha said. However, such promises in the past haven’t been always been met with action.

The data collected by World Watch Monitor in 2013 showed that, despite Pakistani Christians comprising only 1.5 per cent of the total population, they account for more than 80 per cent of the janitorial workforce.

The reason for this has its history in India’s caste system, under which only the so-called “untouchables”, now called “scheduled castes”, were forced to work in occupations considered to be degrading. Historically this meant picking up dead animals, removing animal and human excrement, and hanging criminals by order of the king.

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