Monday, January 6, 2020
Zeenia Shaukat Why is sanitation work reserved for non-Muslim minorities? Although discrimination against sanitary workers has already been highlighted, it is multi-faceted beyond the appropriation of sanitary work for non-Muslims in public service bodies. There is growing evidence around, and resentment against the deep-rooted institutional discrimination which manifests itself across a broad range of excess workload, exposure to occupational health hazards, safety risks and fatalities of sanitary workers. According to a study titled Management of Municipal solid waste generation in Pakistan, 2015, there are 1 to 1.5 sanitary workers per 1,000 population in major towns. However, experts are of the opinion that the effective ratio of sanitary workers to population is far worse. Karachi city, with a population of 20 million is covered by 11,000 solid waste workers. Caste Consciousness in Pakistan – a research conducted by Sara Singha — shows that the Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) employed 7,894 sweepers in 2015 — a majority of them Christians. The same study cites the Capital Development Authority (CDA) employing 1,500 sweepers for Islamabad - all of them Christians. Based on the population of these areas, it is easy to conclude that a sanitary worker serves at least 2,000 citizens. It is pertinent to note that the discrimination faced by non-Muslim sanitary workers in the sector, is not only through the regulation of their work or accompanying social stigmatisation. Rather, several bad practices including political appointments, poor urban planning, departmental corruption and non-implementation of labour laws; come together to reinforce the marginalisation of non-Muslim participation in the sanitary sector. These workers are employed by municipal bodies, Water and Sewerage Boards and Public Health Engineering Department. These are all public service bodies, providing service delivery on cleanliness and maintenance of public infrastructure. Owing to a variety of reasons, these organisations have, over the years, sought to engage sanitary workers through contracts, renewed every 11 months to avoid any obligation to regularise their services. In other cases, private commercial contractors supply sanitary workers and deduct commission from their wages, which are already below the minimum wage-rate. Over the last two years, there have been several protest demonstrations by non-Muslim workers in Sindh and the Punjab, alongside expressions of discontent at public forums about the culture of political appointments. A regular employee is entitled to BPS-1. A contractual employee receives Rs 12,000-Rs 14,000 a month. Political appointments make use of both these systems; inducting constituents of political parties in municipal bodies. Though worker interviews showed that political appointments may include Christian workers, it is mostly Muslims who receive such favours. Once appointed, most of the Muslim workers refuse to work arguing that, dust and dirt interferes with their prayers. This forces the concerned department to move them elsewhere. Eventually, they end up working as gardeners, drivers or errands persons at the houses of local officials, while continuing to draw a salary from the municipality. The reason ghost workers elicit resentment from ‘working’ employees in the municipal sanitary sector is because working employees have to do, they were supposed to do cover greater areas for cleaning, put in more hours and most importantly – clear extra blocked manholes. “On average, I clean 20 sewerage drains a month, because of shortage of staff in Hyderabad. If the Muslim ghost workers show up for work, I would still be doing the same work, but it could come down to two manholes a month,” says Yusuf Gill employed with the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) for 35 years. The national narrative of Pakistan as a Muslim majority country, categorises non-Muslims as 'minority’ Pakistanis'. “We noted this in our training sessions with sanitary workers,” says Shireen Aslam, a social mobiliser and member of District Human Rights Committee. “Muslim workers would categorically say: “hum Pakistani hain, yeh gutter saaf karna humara kaam nahi. Yeh log ghair mulki hain, inn ka kaam hai.” (We are Pakistanis, it is not our job to clean sewers. Non-Muslims are non-locals. It is their job). “On average, I clean 20 sewerage drains a month, because of shortage of staff in Hyderabad. If the Muslim ghost workers show up for work, I would still be doing the same work, but it could come down to two manholes a month” – Yusuf Gill, WASA employee. Another inevitable outcome which reinforces the inherent discrimination is corruption in urban planning. Builders and developers encroach upon public space including pedestrian ways, while building regulators take no action. “In Hyderabad, encroachment is so pervasive that residents take street manholes inside the house. With lanes becoming narrower, it is difficult to bring large-sized machinery to clear blocked sewage. As a result, we are forced by our supervisors to manually clean the sewer, adding to our occupational-health and safety-risk burden,” says Yusuf Gill. The same observation was made by Zulfiqar Shah from the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research who led a fact finding mission to Umarkot in 2017, following the death of a sanitary worker, Irfan Masih. Masih had fainted while clearing a blocked sewer and was refused treatment by the doctors, who asked his relatives to clean his body before they could treat him. In the end he died leading to strong protests by the sanitary workers’ community in the district. Talking about their findings, Shah says: “We visited the site of the incident where the sanitary worker had collapsed in the manhole and found that a long queue of shops had been constructed over the drain. This manhole was almost inside a shop. Moreover, one of our crucial findings was that there were over 200 people appointed to sanitary workers’ positions for Umarkot city. A large number of them were known as ‘white collar’, deputed either by influential people, or those just collecting regular salaries. The Municipal committee chairman admitted on record that some of the people appointed against sanitary workers’ positions were not willing to do the job of cleaning and have been assigned other duties. The entire cleaning work is done by around 90 Christian sanitary workers, mainly from Gujrati and Marwari communities who are locally referred to as ‘bhungi’. The chairman said no person from other castes is willing to do the cleaning work so that only Christians and ‘bhungis’ are doing it. He blamed his predecessors for appointing the wrong people.” The health risk associated with sanitary work is well documented. Several studies point to various illnesses resulting from continuous exposure to dust particles. These include short-term illnesses such as sneezing, coughing, eye irritation, lung tissue swelling, asthma and throat infections. A 2013 study also finds long and continuous inhalation of non-industrial dust in Pakistani street sweepers as one of the critical factors in the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, resulting in obstructive ventilatory patterns. There is also a feeling that ghost employment reinforces unemployment and inequality. This is well explained by Imran Masih Gill, from the Hyderabad Municipal Corporation: “Political appointees get paid out of municipality’s budget for serving local officials and influential persons who enjoy their labour for free. There are so many unemployed people in our community. They cannot get jobs in the sanitary sector because Muslims who do not serve the sector, are taking their jobs.”In terms of resistance against these issues, sanitary workers are represented by Sanitary Sector Workers’ Union covering municipal workers, in major metropolitans and municipal bodies. Opinions about the effectiveness of these unions. However, workers generally feel they have inadequate capacity and resources to launch a concentrated struggle against institutional discrimination. Zahid Sahotra, a local representative from the Christian community who mobilised Christian sanitary workers in Jahanian said they could not go beyond a single day of protest against ghost employment. “The workers are terrified of local political leaders from ruling parties, who can use their influence to have them expelled from service. I had to give-up on mobilisation, as workers refused to lead the protest owing to the pressure from the municipality.”Justice (retd) Majida Razvi, who has formed a special task force for sanitary workers in the Sindh Human Rights Commission, says complaints sent by the sanitary workers to the Commission to resolve their issues are grave in nature and clearly point to an in-built bias in the system. “The system is therefore excruciatingly slow to respond when these issues are taken up,” she observes. “One of the initial complaints from this sector came from a Christian sanitary worker from the Hyderabad Development Authority (HDA) where he had served for two decades. He had been working as a complaint clerk even though his official appointment and hence salary remained that of the junior position of jamadar (sweeper). He complained of a delayed response to his repeated applications for promotion. According to him, he was verbally informed that people from the minority community cannot be appointed as complaint clerk. We sent repeated notices and reminders to the HDA managing director for a good six months before he was officially promoted to his rightful position.” “There are no two opinions about the marginalisation of the sanitary workers and the need for an urgent set of actions to address discrimination which is so deep rooted that it continues without ever being questioned,” continues Justice Razvi. “However, in order to address this, the everyday lives and challenges of these workers need to be understood, as their work is riddled with far greater risks than that of any other sector. Forcing them to dive in the sewer or insulting them through use of separate utensils or denying them their due opportunity in employment promotion or adding to their work load with ghost employment is a reflection of the system’s denial of fundamental human rights to citizens, workers and especially to minorities. It needs a forceful and consistent response from the state as well as the civil society. We have been assured by the Sindh Government of their commitment to address this issue raised by the commission. We hope they will deliver on their promise. ”
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto paid glowing tributes to former Punjab Governor and PPP leader Salman Taseer on his ninth death anniversary, saying that Taseer stood against the dangers of extremism and for the rights of the weak sections all his life.In his message on the occasion, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said Salman Taseer sacrificed his life for the cause of religious tolerance and his death was a great loss to the party and the nation.
Bilawal said the PPP led the war against terrorism and extremism on the ideological front, and would never allow misuse of any law on the basis of religion, creed, colour and caste in the country.
He said the PPP would continue the struggle initiated by Shaheed ZA Bhutto which was the reflection of the historic address delivered by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah on August 11, 1947.
The PPP chairman said the struggle was aimed at making Pakistan a cradle of democracy, equality and tolerance. The PPP offered sacrifices of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, Salman Taseer and hundreds of other heroes. He said the PPP would never fall compromise on the rights which were gained after tough struggles.
By Secunder KermaniThe murder was so brutal it shocked even the hardened detectives who arrived at the scene on the outskirts of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. Bushra Iftikhar, a 28-year-old housewife, had been stabbed with such force that the knife her assailant used had bent out of shape, and he had continued the attack with a screwdriver. The killer? Her husband, Sami Ullah. The couple had four children already, and at the time of her death, Bushra Iftikhar was pregnant with their fifth. Why exactly her husband killed her remains unclear. He claimed in court to have been suffering a mental breakdown and to have no recollection of the incident. Her family says he accused her of wanting to convert to another religious sect. But what does seem clear is that Sami Ullah was a violent man. He had previously been accused of the attempted murder of a neighbour, and of being part of a violent argument at a restaurant. Police believe he should have been in prison, but instead he didn't even face a proper trial. According to Bushra Iftikhar's brother, Sami Ullah's family were influential in the local area and had paid money to the victims of those earlier cases. "In the old cases, he gave money and quickly got out of prison," Mohammad Zakaria bluntly told the BBC. Under Pakistani law, victims or their families have the right to forgive suspects in a number of serious crimes, including most instances of murder. All they have to do is state in court that they forgive a suspect "in the name of God". In reality, legal observers agree that the primary motive for that "forgiveness" is normally financial, and the informal payment of money to victims is not illegal. The provisions allowing crimes of bodily harm to be "settled" or "forgiven" were introduced in the 1990s as part of a set of Islamic-inspired legal reforms. Supporters of the system say it helps reduce pressure on Pakistan's already overburdened and delay-ridden court system, and reduces the likelihood of feuds developing. But according to one study, the murder conviction rate in the country dropped from 29% in 1990, before the laws were introduced, to just 12% in 2000. Critics argue the law can give repeat offenders a sense of impunity, and is a tool for the more powerful to evade justice. Bushra Iftikhar's brother believes the fact her killer was never punished in any of his previous cases only made him grow more violent. "He became arrogant. He thought: 'I did this, and nothing happened. Now I'm free and the law can't touch me.'" Sami Ullah's family admit the previous cases had ended in what are often termed "compromises", but insist they had agreed them to avoid a drawn-out legal process, not because Sami Ullah was guilty. Sami Ullah is currently appealing against a death sentence after being convicted of murder. Ashtar Ausaf Ali, who served as attorney general under the previous government, put forward plans to reform the laws in 2015 whilst still retaining the element of forgiveness. "A person has the right to forgive," he told the BBC from his office in the city of Lahore, but he added that crime wasn't just a matter for an individual, but for society. His idea was to introduce mandatory minimum sentences, so that "people would know that they cannot put a price tag on a crime". Despite being supported by some clerics, Mr Ali's proposals were blocked by a number of Islamist politicians. At the moment, there seems little prospect of them being resurrected. Undermining the system The current law is a source of frustration at times for both police officers and criminal prosecutors. Courts do have the right to reject settlements if they believe they are coerced, but most observers agree that due to the number of cases in the court system, they rarely investigate thoroughly. Meanwhile, one detective told me he had come across dozens of examples of offenders reaching a settlement with their alleged victims only to go on to reoffend. He said the police would spend time and resources investigating a crime only for the case to end abruptly. Then there are other times, when the police themselves can be the beneficiaries of such "settlements". In August, CCTV images of a thief sticking his tongue out at the camera as he stole a bank card from a cash machine in the central Pakistani city of Faisalabad went viral on social media. But the case took a grim turn as shortly after Salahuddin Ayubi was arrested by police, he died in custody. The compromise Suspicions mounted after another video emerged of Salahuddin Ayubi, who apparently initially pretended to police that he was deaf and mute, writhing in pain as a policeman twisted his arms behind his back while another interrogated him. Salahuddin's father, Muhammad Afzal, initially pressed for justice for his son, who is believed to have suffered from a mental illness. However, a month later, he announced he was forgiving the policemen accused of killing him "in the name of God". The "settlement" or "compromise" in that case is understood to have consisted of an agreement the authorities would build a new 8km (five-mile) road in the family's village, as well as a new gas pipeline, not to mention the payment of an undisclosed sum of money. Salahuddin's father seemed content with the deal, which was brokered by a radical cleric with links to the intelligence services. But others, who don't have powerful backers or the weight of public pressure behind them, often end up feeling as if they have no choice but to agree with what is being offered to them. In a village outside Lahore, I met the family of another man who died in police custody. He had been detained after wrongly being accused of murder. The BBC is not revealing the family's names in order to protect them from repercussions, but they say a mixture of coercion and money led them to drop the case against the police officers they hold responsible for his death. "We haven't forgiven them in our hearts," the victim's brother told me. "We never will, but we were helpless." He said a steady stream of local politicians and influential figures had arrived on his doorstep when they began to fight for justice. "They would say: 'Do a deal. If you don't, you won't be able to do anything anyway. Maybe they'll go to jail for six months or a year, after that they'll be freed and can make all sorts of trouble for you.'" The family are poor and were offered enough money to buy a house, something they would have struggled ever to do otherwise. They accepted, but the mother remained distraught at the bargain she felt forced to make. "I wish to God that we were still living in a rented house, and my son was still alive," she said. "They took my son and gave me money for a house, what kind of deal is that?" https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-50716694