The Punjab government has directed the provincial Human Rights department to amend existing service rules (see scan of letter dated Nov 6, 2015) according to which “Only non-Muslims/ Persons who belong to Minorities” are eligible for the position of sanitary workers or sweepers (see attached scan of Service Rules below).
Researcher and writer Asif Aqeel who emailed this update today thanks parliamentarian Mary Gill for bringing the issue to the notice of the government and pushing for the change.
Aqeel wrote about the issue after the Punjab Cardiology Hospital issued a corrigendum on September 28, 2015 stating that both Muslims and non-Muslims were eligible for sanitation-related jobs (“Christians required only as sweepers,” The Friday Times, Oct. 23, 2015).
The issue came to the fore once again after an advertisement in several newspapers by the Punjab Cardiology Hospital announcing sanitation jobs for which “Only Non-Muslims persons who belong to minorities will be accommodated” (September 17, 2015).
The Punjab government notification is a victory for all those who have fought and continue to fight for the rights of all human beings, regardless of their religion, race, gender or nationality. However, many other aspects of the issue – of sanitary workers – remain to be addressed.
Human rights and minority rights activists in Pakistan have long protested discriminatory practices particularly in the sanitation sector.
Back in 2013, there was outrage when Chief Minister of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was reported as saying that only “non-Muslims will be recruited as sweepers”. It later turned out that he was responding to an appeal by the Municipal United Workers’ Union – Muslim sweepers, about 100 out of the 935 sanitary workers employed by the Peshawar Municipal Corporation, said the Union, weren’t doing their jobs but receiving their salaries. Their recruitment was politically motivated, and their workload shifted to the Christian sweepers, as the World Watch Monitor reported, putting the issue in context in a comprehensive piece.
For a chilling reminder of the conditions that sanitation workers face while doing their jobs, read: “He Died on Diwali Inside a Sewage Pipe” by Subhashini Ali, former member of parliament and former Member of the National Commission for Women and Vice President of the All India Democratic Women’s Association. Her words ring true not only for India but also Pakistan and probably other Southasian countries too.