Punjab, Pakistan: Government Reserves Low-Skill ‘Sweeper’ Jobs for Christians

An Indian sweeper cleans the red carpet in the front of Pakistani flags which were on display at the Pakistan stalls during the Punjab International Trade Expo PHD (PITEX) 2016 Trade Fair in Amritsar on December 10, 2016. Narinder NANU / AFP
Narinder NANU / AFP

The province of Punjab in Muslim-majority Pakistan has reserved five percent of all government positions for minority groups, including Christians, but the only type of employment allocated for them are generally low-skill janitorial “sweeper” jobs.

The Pakistan Christian Post reports that an advertisement announcing jobs available at the government-run hospital known as the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore has only allotted janitorial positions to fulfill the five percent quota for minorities, namely Christians.

Allocating low-skill jobs as part of the mandated five percent quota happens regularly in Punjab, home to many residents who were considered “landless, unskilled, poor laborers, and peasants,” as well as members of low-caste Hindu communities when they converted to Christianity around the time that Pakistan became an independent country in 1947, points out the Herald.

Wilson Chowdhry, the chairman of the London-based charity British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), said:

If in the West, prejudice against Muslims can be called racist, as it often is, what can we say about the entrenched and institutionalized discrimination against Christians? The word apartheid is extremely appropriate here, and we call on Western governments to face up to this fact and consider applying to Pakistan the same measures they did against apartheid South Africa.

Some NGOs, such as BPCA, have condemned the allocation of janitorial jobs to Christians as a testament to the ongoing discrimination against minorities in Pakistan.

Critics describe the so-called five percent quota for minorities’ jobs within the government as Pakistan’s “affirmative action” scam — “a sham, and a tool to deliberately discriminate against them,” reports the Christian Post.

Some NGOs have described Punjab’s decision to only offer non-skilled positions to Christians and other minorities as a ploy to maintain Christians in poverty and low-paying jobs.

In other words, the alleged primary goal of the quota system is to keep Christians and other minorities in powerless positions within their government.

The Christian Post notes:

Other jobs such as security guard, ward boy and lift operator are open for the general public to apply for, but the two positions for male and female sanitary worker explicitly state: “Only non-Muslim persons [generally refers to Christians] who belong to minorities will be accommodated.”

If accused of discrimination in court, some human rights activists acknowledge that the Punjab government can argue that they have fulfilled their legal obligation by honoring the quota even if they only offer less than desirable positions.

So, the minority groups’ hands are tied. The only opportunity within the Punjab government available to them is to work as sweepers.

Disabled residents of Punjab have access to more jobs as government employees than Christians and other members of minority groups.

Morris Johns, a researcher for the U.K. Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pakistani Minorities, notes, referring to Muslims: “They are gardeners, drivers and lab attendants, but the hatred against the minorities is such that they are not given an opportunity to apply even for these lowly paid jobs. They want to confine the minorities to just one occupation [sweepers].”

In a letter to the Chief Minister of Punjab voicing dismay about the government jobs reserved for Christians, Jim Shannon, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pakistani Minorities, notes:

This discriminatory advertisement [of Punjab government jobs] skirted the Government’s allocation of 5% quota in employment sector to be reserved for the religious minorities by reserving all the sweepers’ jobs for the non-Muslims. The advertisement is blatantly discriminatory against the religious minorities because whereas females and the disabled people’s quota is widely spread among all the vacancies, the religious minorities quota, on the other hand, has been limited to sweepers only.

Echoing BPCA’s Chowdhry, he refers to the actions taken by the Punjab government as a violation of the Pakistani constitution and human rights.

Although the Punjab Minister for Health is reportedly a Christian himself, he has not spoken against the job discrimination against people who share his faith.

Pakistan Christian Post explains that even members of minority groups who have attained high-ranking positions at the national and provincial levels are discriminated against and excluded from social events by the Muslim majority.

To refer to the minority groups, Muslims often used the terms “bhanghi” and “choora” which translates “to ‘sweeper’ but in essence are insults referring to low caste/status or dark skin,” notes the news outlet.

However, the Muslim majority in Pakistan have not always treated all Christians with disdain.

Converts to Christianity, generally “landless, unskilled, poor laborers, and peasants” who mainly lived in Punjab, were generally considered to be members of low-caste Hindu communities, reported Pakistan’s the Herald.

Meanwhile, “educated Christian professionals, mostly Anglo-Indians and Goans, who lived in big cities such as Karachi and Lahore” were treated better given that they were “from upper-caste Hindus as well as Muslims,” it adds.

Anti-Christian sentiment sanctioned by the government is prevalent in Punjab, the second-largest and most populous province in Pakistan.

This year, Pakistani authorities detained a 70-year-old Christian father and his family, including his three children between the ages of 8 and 14, for an alleged act of blasphemy.

Last October, the government of a city in Punjab banned Christians from gathering in houses to offer their worship or prayers.