Why can’t we clean our streets and houses ourselves?

Published: December 31, 2014
SHARES
Email

Why can’t they be allowed to choose another occupation, like becoming a green grocer or fruit vendor or anything else? PHOTO: ASAD ZIA / EXPRESS

It was December 25, 2014 and I was heading out for work. As I approached the main gate, my eye caught sight of our building’s notice board. The words scribbled on the board left me dumbfounded.

It read:

“Important Notice: On December 25 and December 26, on account of the Christian community’s religious festival, Christmas, the sweepers will be off. Hence, on these two days, residents are requested to make sure garbage is not dumped on their balconies and special care is taken of their surroundings, with regards to cleanliness. Thank you.”

Photo: Ishrat Ansari

Though born and bred in this country, never before that day had I realised that on Christmas Day the streets, office washrooms and buildings are not swept. Despite cleanliness being an important part of Islam, in Pakistan, unfortunately, it is taken as a job beneath the stature of Muslims and thus, handed over to the Christian population of the country.

I tried to put myself in the shoes of the sweeper and read the notice again. I felt angry, demeaned and heartbroken all at the same time, and the realisation made me feel very sorry for the state of affairs of our country. Does being Christian in Pakistan automatically mean that this the only job available to them is that of a sweeper or the likes? Do their qualifications merit no regard?

I have seen children as young as 12 or 14 sweeping or washing the stairs of the apartment building I live in, and my heart goes out to them. Are we not responsible enough citizens of this country or responsible enough human beings to realise that the rightful place for these children is a school? Why, then, are they not seen going to school? Why are they taught to pick up a broom as soon as they enter adolescence?

Why aren’t they allowed to choose another occupation? Why aren’t they given the hope of becoming a doctor, banker or teacher in this country? Even simpler jobs like becoming a green grocer or fruit vendor seem to be out of their reach? Why?

The answer is, because Pakistan is not an egalitarian society. We are a nation that depends on minorities and the poor to clean our houses and streets because we are too stuck-up too do it ourselves. Because, God forbid that anyone ever assumes we have to clean our own backside. Even though it was our very own Prophet Mohammed (PBHU) who said that cleanliness is half our faith, we wouldn’t dare pick up that broom.

Are we really even Muslims, seeing how we are far from cleanliness?

We are a biased society, a nation so spoilt and lazy that we do not, even for a day, care to look after our streets or buildings or garbage on our own; we depend on the poor minority for this and, furthermore, we brand and label them for doing it. We ridicule them for it. This is not what our religion teaches us. We are brought up hearing that cleanliness is half faith, but why do we not implement it in real life?

Forget my apartment; my office had the same scenario. As journalists, we don’t get too many holidays. We work on August 14 and December 25 too. When I came to work that day, I saw that the washrooms were dirtier than ever and toilet papers were all over the floor. The wash basin was choked but was still being used. Those two days at work were very difficult – so much so that I visited the toilets very reluctantly and only went when I absolutely needed to.

I never treat anyone on the basis of religion and I think most educated and enlightened people are alike. I lived over four years in the UK and noticed that no one could ever make out whether a person was a sweeper or not. They would go to bars and restaurants in the evenings and mingle and enjoy meals like other professionals and no one would ridicule them.

Being a sweeper is not a stigma; furthermore, it is not limited to just one community or minority. Anyone can be a sweeper. Most interestingly, on Christmas, Christians also work in Europe and for working on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, they are remunerated with triple the usual pay. Of course, here I am talking about those who work on daily wages, so a lot of people love to work on these three days to earn some extra bucks, even though a lot goes to taxes.

What I mean to say is, had the job of cleanliness not been marked as only for the Christian community, we wouldn’t have lived in utter filth those two days. We need to let go of this idea that one kind of work is better than the other. If someone is earning an honest living, then it’s a respectable profession – there shouldn’t be any discrimination.

We believe in four holy books, and out of them, one was revealed on Hazrat Essa (AS) (Jesus Christ). This makes me question, are we not supposed to mark his birth anniversary being Muslims? Why do only Christians celebrate Christmas and not us? Perhaps if we start doing that, we might become less aggressive towards our minorities and might start treating them with respect.

I do wish we Pakistanis become better human beings and humanity prevails in this part of the world.

Ishrat Ansari

Ishrat Ansari

The author works at The Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • soothla

    “When I came to work that day, I saw that the washrooms were dirtier than ever and toilet papers were all over the floor. The wash basin was choked but was still being used. Those two days at work were very difficult – so much so that I visited the toilets very reluctantly and only went when I absolutely needed to.”

    Like you , I also would not have made any effort to clean the washroom because “We are a biased society, a nation so spoilt and lazy that we do not, even for a day, care to look after our streets or buildings or garbage on our own”Recommend

  • Fighter Man

    There is no proper garbage disposal system in other areas of Pakistan except Islamabad. If Proper waste management system is established. You will never see any garbage on the streets.Recommend

  • Sami

    The fundamentals of our country are wrong so kindly dont expect any drastic change in the near future. Christians and all minorities are considered second class citizens and the doors to progress for them are closed. Our constitution declare Pakistan as the Islamic republic where anyone not conforming to majority is known as the Minority and is shunned as the second class citizen.

    The discrimination against all Minorities start from our constitution where all Citizens of Pakistan are not considered equal. It is clearly mentioned in 1971 constitution that a minority member of Pakistan can never become a President.

    A Non Muslim in Pakistan is not even allowed to vote a Muslim candidate according to the 1980s amendment of the constitution in 1971 constitution.

    Do you know We have a separate electorate for Non Muslims and it is our constitution. imagine a separate electorate for Muslims in UK or America and we will be chanting discrimination but here we have a blind eye on this issue.

    We have a huge problem with India but do we know anyone living in India is known as Indian according to their constitution but it is not the case with Pakistan. That is why we have Indian Muslim presidents whereas in Pakistan a Non Muslim can never attain that position.

    Similarly Non-Muslims like Christians, Hindus and Ahmedis are considered dirty and More than 90 percent Pakistanis dont share utensils with them. A person who clean your house have separate utensils and we all know that.

    Interestingly those people who consider non Muslims as dirty and discriminate against them also share Ahadees and verses on this issue. So i dont know whom to believe?.
    Moderate Muslims share those verses which suits their needs while fundamentalists share the other part that is sometimes intentionally neglected by moderates. I am confused and so does the whole Muslim world what to say on all these issues?Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Such a biased article. You mixed up the bias with some good bits, I have no idea why.
    It makes the over generalization that all christians in Pakistan are sweepers. Not only is this wrong, it is derogatory to be honest. I studied at NUML and one of my most favourite, generous, kind hearted, loving and great teachers was a Christian(heart of pure 24K gold type lady).There are many, many, well educated christians in Pakistan. Also , not all sweepers and menial labourers are christians. Hundreds or thousands of muslim women commute to big cities to work as “massis”.
    Secondly, the “out of place” feeling. You cannot be more wrong. Try going to a “posh” restaurant in England and you will be stared at(unless you are wearing traditional Arabian dress). Even less, just go to any good tailor to get a suit made and you get the could shoulder. you said you feel right at home in bars etc, well their bars are equivalent to the dingy chayay wallas that are in the slums of cities and there you can see all kinds of labourers mixing freely.
    Thirdly, and most importantly. Sorry to burst your bubble but Pakistanis do not do “uber posh” jobs in western countries. A vast, vast majority does menial labour. Some take dole and then work illegally as taxi drivers/janitors/cleaners. And they get treated as second class citizens too.Recommend

  • Janglus

    Just the observations and too much use of ‘I ….’
    Nothing extraordinary in this blog that it can be published in a national newspaper!Recommend

  • Queen

    Agree with the author. It is really sad that in our society everyone believe that a menial job like sweeping is marked only for the Christian community and this is absolutely wrong. We tend to forget that as a Muslim, cleanliness is half of our faith. It is our responsibility to give respect to everyone irrespective of his religion, job, or background. But again, people don’t understand this when you try to reason with them.Recommend

  • maheen

    dude… if pakistanis are treating pakistanis as second class citizens in their own country….. then they deserve to be treated as second or third class citizens in another!
    and yes, Christians in pakistan do have other professions…. but I have always grown up hearing that all bhangis are non muslims. we namaz reciting all so pious people….. dont want to clean even our own bathrooms…. coz its dirty!!Recommend

  • Maria Choudry

    True that minorities are treated as 3rd grade citizens and it hurts me too. But the solution still is in the practice of orignal and true teachings of the same Islam which orders us to keep ourselves and entities around us clean. And I think its more of government’s responsibility to provide minorities their rights as Pakistani citizens.
    As far the public behavior towards these people is concerned, trust me it only can be altered by promoting Islamic values.Recommend

  • Fernandez

    Not all all Christians are sweepers in Pakistan, there are many educated and well off ones too, but the author is ignorant of that fact that many Christians in Pakistan descend from Dalit Hindus who used to this proffesion, similarly many poor Muslims in Pakistan with a Dalit background are in this occupation, so it’s not religious but caste discrimination, the janitors are derogatorily referred to as “Chooras” in Pakistan.

    The fact there is very little social mobility in Pakistan means that people usually end up in the same income bracket as their parents and forefathers, so there is a caste dimension but we don’t follow the caste system fully, it’s a combination of caste + lack of social mobility.Recommend

  • Fernandez

    Dude the reason why so many sweepers happen to be Christian is because most of the sweepers are of the Dalit/”choora” casteRecommend

  • Agrippa – The Skeptic

    @ Author:

    “Those two days at work were very difficult – so much so that I visited the toilets very reluctantly and only went when I absolutely needed to.”

    Did it occur to you that if you had cleaned a toilet yourself, you would have been saved the discomfiture for two days?

    I am sure it didn’t, then the question is – why the long lament (your blog)?Recommend

  • Sami

    Pakistan is an Islamic country and if everyone is considered equal irrespective of caste, creed or color then your comment is deemed stupid and out of touch. May be it is applicable to India but should not be applicable in Pakistan,.Recommend

  • ikramullah

    As a true and patriotic Pakistani, I clean my house promptly and throw the garbage on the street.Recommend

  • chimhaadarr

    … the author is invited to be the first drop in the rain …

    … Please start from your own street and house … Once the author has done the street cleaning for one year … she may please report back on her blog …Recommend

  • Al Khalifa

    A beautiful article. Kudos to Ishrat Ansari. I re-read the piece a few times and realised that it is pertinent for all humans, and particularly to Pakistanis. The mentality she has described prevails everywhere, but it has official and religious sanction only in our Land of the Pure.Recommend

  • Yousaf Haque

    I didn’t know that one could write a blog without doing any research work.Since last forty some years Christians,in a very well planned manner,have gradually transformed themselves from ‘bhangees’ to Educated and well established citizens of Pakistan.A few Christians that one sees sweeping / cleaning roads and house-refuse are from the old lot.Rest are all Muslims in the guise of Christians for (face saving) and getting undue advantage of unearned leaves by posing as non Muslims.Recommend

  • anwar

    absolutely right….its some sort of very dirty culture of ours,which needs to be changed,and its also very much against our deen, and the teachings of the last prophet saww….Recommend

  • FS

    Ignorance at its peak. Among many others,my A level chemistry teacher is a Christian (the most well known chemistry teacher in Lahore), as well as a genuine, amazing human being. To think of him being ridiculed for being a Christian is ludicrous, considering the terrific teaching skills he’s got. Not all Christians are sweepers. Try doing some research before you choose to write a blog next time.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    “There is no proper garbage disposal system in other areas of Pakistan except Islamabad”
    I see that you need to visit I-10 and other I and E sectors.Recommend

  • Sadaf Jahan
  • Batool

    Here you have mixed your point of views at one point you talk about ‘Christian sweepers’ and then you say ‘I have seen children as young as 12 or 14 sweeping or washing the stairs of the apartment building I live in, and my heart goes out to them….. Why are they taught to pick up a broom as soon as they enter adolescence? ‘Well this is not the case now since in my area most of the sweepers are either Pathans or Punjabis and being a member of one of the organizations yes WE do such activities of cleaning up the city. But yes yes I’m against child labour.Recommend

  • Fighter Man

    Whatever, Islamabad is still better than other cities of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Hamna Umer

    Yes we need to clean PakistanRecommend