NCHR Chairperson Rabiya Javeri Agha speaks at the launch of the awareness campaign in Islamabad on Tuesday. — APP
NCHR Chairperson Rabiya Javeri Agha speaks at the launch of the awareness campaign in Islamabad on Tuesday. — APP

ISLAMABAD: The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) launched a campaign to create awareness of discrimination against Christian sanitary workers.

In collaboration with the EU-funded Huqooq-i-Pakistan project, the campaign was launched at the conclusion of NCHR’s daylong civil society consultation held to get stakeholders’ feedback on its four-year strategic plan.

The screening of a film on the occasion highlighted the plight of families of two sanitation workers - Nadeem and Faisal Masih - who died from toxic fumes and gases in sewers in Sargodha a few months ago.

The campaign also featured sharing of messages through print, electronic and digital media and online posts on discriminatory ads for hiring of sanitation workers, facts related to the government’s quota system and how it was skewed to discriminate against minorities.

Commission intends to file suit against govt to remove discriminatory language in ads for employment of sanitary workers, says chairperson

Speaking on the occasion, NCHR Chairperson Rabiya Javeri Agha said the commission intended to file a suit against the government to remove the discriminatory language in advertisements for employment of sanitary workers.

“Such advertisements are in violation of Article 27 of the Constitution as well as international treaties ratified by the government, especially Article 1 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 1-7 of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.”

She said that in 2009 Pakistan introduced a quota of five per cent for minorities in all federal and provincial government jobs.

“However, the annual statistical bulletin of the federal government employees 2017–18 showed that only 2.8pc were hired and most of them were concentrated in low paid work,” she said, adding as of 2021 there were a total of 29,692 vacant minority posts of different grades for recruitment across Pakistan.

“Most distressingly, evidence shows that government organisations have tried to meet the requirement by advertising sanitation jobs and other low paying work as being exclusively for Christians or other non-Muslims. Even though Christians are 1.6pc of the population of Pakistan, they represent over 80pc of the sanitation workforce,” she informed.

Ms Agha said an overwhelming majority of sanitation workers who had died cleaning sewers were from the Christian community. “From 2011-2021, over 65pc of sanitation workers who died while cleaning sewers were from minority communities.”

Highlighting some other facts, she said Christian sanitary workers were exploited and discriminated against in a myriad of ways. Instead of being employees of the municipal corporations, they were often classified as ‘daily wagers’, denying their basic labour rights.

“They are not given proper PPE or masks and are most often forced to strip down to their shorts to descend into the sewage system. Emergency staff tasked with rescuing workers often refuse to go into sewage systems, leaving the bodies of workers, both dead and near death, for other community members to remove.

“In some reported cases, even once injured sanitation workers are taken to hospitals, doctors often refuse to treat them because they are ‘unclean’ and covered in filth,” she said.

NCHR member minority Manzoor Masih stressed putting an end to unconstitutional and discriminatory advertisements.

“We must fill the minority quota in government jobs across all grades, not just BPS 01-04, and we must ensure that we implement affirmative action the way it was meant to be implemented as a tool to help uplift minority communities, not oppress them further,” he said.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2022

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