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Pakistan province bans slur hurled at sanitation workers

Officers, employees and citizens of Punjab face legal action if they violate the diktat
Pakistan province bans slur hurled at sanitation workers

A sanitation worker of Lahore Water Management Company in Pakistan holds a placard that states “I am a human being, not a trash can.” (Photo supplied)

Published: December 13, 2021 10:03 AM GMT
Updated: December 13, 2021 10:39 AM GMT

Punjab has become the first province in Pakistan to ban a derogatory slur inflicted on sanitary workers, a majority of them Christians.

“All citizens, officers and employees of MC (Municipal Committee) Attock are informed that from now onwards sanitary workers will not be called by the word of chuhra. Legal action will be taken against the violators,” said Malik Tahir Awan, vice-chairman of the municipal committee for Attock district in a notification issued on Dec. 10, human rights day.  

“Officers should not only respect their subordinates but also sensitize them to give importance and respect to the general public,” he added.

Waqas Amjad, the focal person for the minister of local bodies and community development in Punjab, launched a campaign on Twitter to select “a good name” for sweepers. 

Some 80 percent of sanitation workers in Pakistan are Christians despite them making up just 2 percent of the general population, according to a study by WaterAid.

They are often referred to as chuhra (low caste), an abusive term reserved for sanitation workers, which refers to their past as members of the subcontinent’s Hindu Chuhra caste that is historically associated with the sweeping profession.

Road sweepers in Pakistan are mostly Christians and are also referred to by other abusive slurs in local languages

Even though many among them converted to Islam and Christianity, they continue to suffer the same treatment at the hands of their co-religionists and are assigned jobs seen as degrading and defiling.

Road sweepers in Pakistan are mostly Christians and are also referred to by other abusive slurs in local languages.

In 2018, minority members of the Punjab Assembly held an emergency press conference against Muslim lawmaker Arif Abbasi for calling a Christian parliamentarian with the derogatory term during a heated discussion of the budget.

Job advertisements published by both provincial governments and security establishments inviting applications from non-Muslims for sanitation posts often discriminate against the community.

Sweepers Are Superheroes, Pakistan’s first advocacy campaign to outline social attitudes and working conditions of sanitary workers, shared the latest notification on its Facebook page. 

“Very encouraging to see that government officials are trying to break the stigma attached with our sanitation heroes. Whatever name/title is chosen for sweepers, it should be coupled with dignity and respect,” it stated.

Former lawmaker Mary James Gill, who launched the campaign in 2019, thanked the Punjab government for setting a “very good example.”

“The derogatory term of churha is the first foundation of insult, hatred and discrimination aimed at minority Christians. The rest of the municipalities should set this deterrence. Thankfully, awareness is increasing in our society. We only demand acceptance and dignity,” she told UCA News.

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