A reminder: Sanitation workers are human beings
It is World Coconut Day on September 2, a day to,
“Propagate the importance of this tree and to make people aware about the benefits of the fruit”.
While the day is also meant to remind people about people whose livelihoods depend on the fruit, rising salary demands from fruit pickers have left much of the global industry looking at alternative farming methods.
In India and Thailand, monkeys are a popular alternative. They work cheap (mostly for bananas), don’t need uniforms (or any clothes for that matter), and according to studies, are five times as effective as human pickers.
The monkeys are doing a job nobody else wants. The work is tiring. The hours are bad. The pay is low. The conditions are dangerous. But they do it anyway, because as long as the owner is good to them, they are satisfied with life.
However, the sub-human workers have shown one human tendency. Abuse them and they will quit and run away. Or, in at least one verified case from Thailand, drop coconuts on an abusive owner’s head (before running away).
Here in Pakistan, we also have sub-human workers doing a job no one wants to do. Except these workers are only considered sub-human because of the religious bigotry inherent in the society. They are the sanitation workers of Pakistan. Predominantly Christian and under the poverty line, these men and women spend their lives doing work that most Muslims consider unclean, and which people with the means to hire domestic staff would not be caught dead doing.
For their humble service to society, they are referred to by the derogatory term ‘choora’, roughly translating to filthy. They are bracketed together as criminals, drug dealers and wastrels, and are often treated as readily-available human punching bags when the situation requires one.
Even the civic agency doesn’t care about them. Despite the fact that sanitation workers’ salaries had been held up last year, the CDA continued to invest millions in important things like upgrading senior staff’s houses and paying for repairs to official cars allegedly damaged by the incumbent chairman’s son.
And those are the lucky ones.
As a result of the Rimsha Masih blasphemy case, the last few weeks have seen hundreds of Christians run from their homes in Mehrabadi. There were signs a peaceful resolution could be achieved, considering that a medical report on the girl found that her brain was underdeveloped and she was indeed underage.
But then came the accuser’s new lawyer, Abdur Raheem. He was quoted by Britain’s The Guardian newspaper as saying that if she is not convicted, Muslims could “take the law into their own hands”. The same story also says Raheem took on the case for free because he was convinced that Masih should be punished, before quoting him as saying,
“This girl is guilty. If the state overrides the court, then God will get a person to do the job.”
Isn’t that a call for vigilante justice?
Oh, and did I mention he has a picture of Mumtaz Qadri hanging in his office? Or that he is head of the Khatam-e-Nabooat Lawyers Forum? The same guys who showered rose petals on Salmaan Taseer’s aforementioned assassin?
“There are many Mumtaz Qadris in this country, and we will support them”, Raheem was quoted as saying in The Express Tribune.
To me at least, that looks like an open call to murder a child who even Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat and Sipah-e-Sihaba leader Ahmed Ludhianvi said should be freed if proven to be mentally incompetent to stand trial.
How bigoted does a man have to be to make Ludhianvi sound like a tolerant liberal?
All Pakistan Ulema Council Chairman Maulana Tahir Ashrafi was quoted as saying,
“We demand an impartial and thorough investigation into the case. Strict action should be taken against all those accusing the girl if she is found innocent.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Raheem said,
“This (incident) is a conspiracy to ridicule Islam, and incite Muslims. We will not let this happen in our country.”
As far as I can see, the only one inciting Muslims to violence is Mr Raheem himself.
The sad thing is, Mr Raheem isn’t the only one claiming his bigoted personal opinions are facts.
For the people of Mehrabadi who are currently living in a park in G-9, an attempt to set up temporary tents was shelved after local residents protested, while those interested in returning to the area were told not to pray in their church anymore because it is disruptive. Say that to a right-winger and your detached head will be bouncing around the floor.
Although the locals have every right to ask the government to disallow squatters from hanging around their homes, calling them “suspicious”, as one local did without a shred of proof about their “suspicious” activities, reeks of intolerance.
Are they suspicious because they do the jobs no one else wants to?
Then do them yourself.
Are they suspicious because they are not educated?
The same applies for half of the country’s Muslims.
Are they suspicious because they are poverty-stricken?
So are many Muslims.
Are they suspicious because some members of their community are criminals?
So are some Muslims.
Or are they suspicious just because they are not Muslim?
Whatever the reason, if they want their city kept clean and don’t want minority communities living besides them, they should look into hiring trained monkeys.
Or they could just take the easy way out and treat sanitation workers like human beings.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.