Unequal citizens

Published May 25, 2022

INDIFFERENCE would have been bad enough, but the state’s attitude towards non-Muslims falls squarely in the category of religious discrimination to the extent of considering them as being less than human. It is a shameful indictment of the promise upon which this country came into being nearly 75 years ago, when it pledged to protect its minorities and treat them on a par with the rest of its citizenry. According to a report compiled by the National Commission for Human Rights, with support from the EU, nearly half the posts reserved for religious minorities in government jobs are vacant and — to add insult to injury — 80pc of the non-Muslims who have been appointed under the 5pc quota for them are working in low-paid sanitation jobs. The document, titled Unequal Citizens: Ending Systemic Discrimination Against Minorities, highlights a slew of other problems that many non-Muslims in government jobs related to garbage disposal and sewerage management face every time they show up for work in return for a pittance. These include hazardous working conditions, inadequate safety gear and equipment, lack of job security and low compensation to those injured or the families of those who die in the course of their work.

The report should be a much-needed wakeup call for a state that is failing spectacularly in its constitutional and international obligations towards an entire section of the citizenry. According to the NCHR, between 2011 and 2021, more than 65pc of sanitary workers who died while unclogging gutters belonged to minority communities. Repeatedly, concerned citizens have pointed out that notices advertising government posts for sanitation workers display blatant faith-based discrimination by clearly stating that only non-Muslims need apply — as though these tasks essential for keeping our environs clean and disease-free are beneath Muslims. In September last year, the Supreme Court had asked the government why 30,000 jobs set aside for non-Muslims were still vacant. And yet, this institutionalised discrimination persists in our society, furthering a majoritarian mindset that then becomes a breeding ground for other problems.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2022

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