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Pakistan’s elusive govt job quotas for religious minorities

Christians continue being denied decent jobs and have poor access to quality education
In this picture taken on March 10, 2022, workers of the Christian community from Lahore Waste Management Company clean a street in Lahore

In this picture taken on March 10, 2022, workers of the Christian community from Lahore Waste Management Company clean a street in Lahore. (Photo: Arif Ali / AFP) 

Published: March 28, 2023 11:22 AM GMT
Updated: March 29, 2023 04:36 AM GMT

For seven years, Naveed Sahotra waited for an interview with Pakistan's largest gas company to whom he applied for the post of an air conditioner technician or an electrician under a job quota for minorities.

Young Catholics like Sahorta prefer to have jobs in government or in government-owned companies as they offer job security, besides perks like housing, health and retirement pension, says the 25-year-old, who is now married.

Pakistan has an estimated 700,000 young Christians like Sahorta, who their leaders say are discriminated against in government and public sector jobs because of their faith in the Islamic country, Christian leaders say.

Sahotra scored 66 percent in academic performance evaluation tests conducted after passing the Grade 10 exams in 2016 and met all prerequisites for the job at Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited. But he failed to get any response from the company.

Aiming to end this discrimination, the government in 2009, reserved 5 percent of jobs for religious minorities in federal and provincial governments, semi-autonomous bodies, public corporations and public companies.

Theoretically, the reservation was proportionately more as religious minorities make up about 4 percent of the some 230 million overwhelmingly Muslim population. But yet, the discrimination failed to end.  

Neglected job quota

The job quota is rarely enforced due to centuries-old discrimination that sees Christians linked to socially poor lower castes, and also because of poor education resulting from their economic poverty, Christian leaders said.

Many job vacancies are yet to be fully filled, says the Lahore-based Center for Social Justice (CSJ) in a study titled “Promises to Keep and Miles to go” released this January.

For example, in 2021, there were around 28,854 vacant posts against the job quota for minorities in the government departments under the federal government, and in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, the study said.

The only government jobs that easily come to Christians are those related to sanitation work, which mainstream Muslim society despises as menial jobs associated with lower caste people.

The Annual Statistical Bulletin of Federal Government Employees for 2018-19, the latest available, shows that 663,234 jobs were sanctioned but only 581,755 positions were filled. More than 81,000 job seats were not filled.

Poverty of education

The Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC), whose job is to ensure merit-based recruitment in government services, has often cited the “non-availability of qualified candidates belonging to minorities.”

“The commission has been highlighting these issues in its previous annual reports to invite the attention of the policymakers to take appropriate measures so that both women and minorities take full benefit of the reserved quota,” it stated in an annual report in 2017.

It is a “worrisome situation,” says Farhan Lawrence, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishop’s Youth and Family Life Commission.

The education level of religious minorities is too low, he said. Only 34 percent of religious minorities, including Christians, are literate and just about 4 percent of them go for university education, he told UCA News.

“Male Christians have no choice but to engage in menial jobs as daily wagers. Girls end up working as housemaids or in beauty parlors,” Lawrence said.

Manzoor Masih, a member of the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), said 89 jobs are reserved for religious minorities in Pakistan’s elite civil service.  

“But there is no hope of filling them as only two or three non-Muslims clear the competitive exam,” qualifying for the job, he said.

Half-hearted efforts

Most government departments have adopted a half-hearted approach in recruiting minority candidates and avoid advertising the vacancies, he said.

It took months of lobbying for the deputy inspector-general of police of southern Hyderabad to make an announcement about 150 places for minorities in his department, said Bishop Samson Shukardin of Hyderabad

“Poor advertisements and lack of awareness also result in fewer job applications from minorities. We can’t rule out systematic discrimination here,” the prelate said.

On March 24, the Lahore High Court directed the Punjab School Education Department to consider the job application of Abrar Binyameen in accordance with the law after Binyameen complained of being denied employment under a quota for children of government employees.

He accused the education department of religious discrimination by denying him the post of laboratory attendant.

“My father had been working at the education department for 36 years as a naib qasid [kitchen worker/office boy]. Children of employees from the majority religion were selected for eight posts, but despite passing Grade 10 exams with science subjects, I was denied the opportunity,” Binyameen said.

Christians seek legal recourse

Meanwhile, Sahotra has had no luck.

He along with four Christians from Faisalabad filed a petition in 2016 against the management of Sui Northern Gas Pipelines and the secretary of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources.

On March 2, four of the petitioners appeared for the hearing at the Lahore High Court as one of them lost hope and stopped accompanying them.

“My family has to bear the cost of around 15,000 rupees (US$55) for each trip to Lahore. The repeated adjournments and absence of gas company lawyers is prolonging the case. It is a tense, difficult path,” Sahotra said. 

Akmal Bhatti, a lawyer representing Sahotra, said the company was violating minority rights.

“This is economic murder of the marginalized minorities,” said the Catholic human rights lawyer.

The Lahore High Court had in 2017 ruled in favor of a Christian candidate denied a post as a watchman in a health unit in Multan, Punjab, and in the previous year had questioned the Multan Electric Power Company for failing to fill up 4,000 job vacancies meant for minorities.

The aggrieved Christians' cause was taken up by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Major Religious Superiors Leadership Conference. 

“The poor minorities cannot bribe corrupt clerks for better jobs. They end up getting lower positions. Segregating quotas in different [pay] scales can help the economically poor,” Hyacinth Peter, a commission official told UCA News.

Peter Jacob, executive director of CSJ, blames a lack of an independent monitoring authority for not implementing job quotas.

“The 2009 [5 percent job reservation] notification presupposed that the departments will implement it on their own but the embedded lack of transparency results in corruption and cartelization,” he said.

Discrimination did not deter Sahotra. 

It prompted him to study further and get a job as a software developer in a private firm, earning a monthly salary of 80,000 rupees (US$283.57). He's also continuing his studies for a master's in computer science.

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