Pakistan: Christian Sewage Workers Denied Protective Gear Killed by Toxic Fumes

DHAKA, BANGLADESH - MAY 03: A sewer cleaner of Dhaka City Corporation cleaning out the city's sewers on May 3, 2017 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Despite a rise in the number of deaths of manhole workers every year, workers regularly go into the manholes without any protective gear. PHOTOGRAPH BY Zakir …
Zakir Chowdhury/Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Three Pakistani Christian servants died after cleaning a sewer in Pakistan, as they were not given the correct protective equipment, the British Pakistani Christian news service has reported.

The three men – named Saleem Masih, 50, Danish Masih, 20, and Nadeem Masih, 18 – worked as servants at the Sadiq Public School in the town of Bahawalpur where they were instructed to clear a blockage in the drainage system.

However, as they entered the sewers without the correct protective equipment, they were caught by a barrage of poisonous fumes, which leaked from an area within the drainage system. Saleem and Danish were killed instantly, while Nadeem managed to escape but died later at the hospital.

According to fellow sewage workers, the three men had no chance of surviving the attack, as they were not adequately trained and did not have the appropriate protective equipment.

Hundreds of sewage workers are killed every year in Pakistan as a result of toxic fumes, with Christians making up at least 90 percent of the victims. Workers are also paid a pittance and receive little or no employment protections, despite working for a government-run Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA).

Most sanitation workers in Pakistan are Christian, as many Muslims refuse to do the work based on Quranic teachings on personal hygiene. Christians, who remain the subject of endemic discrimination in Pakistan, generally belong to the lower classes and find employment when they can.

In the Pakistani province of Punjab, at least five percent of all government positions are reserved for minority groups, including Christians, but they are only allowed into low-skilled, manual labor such as sanitary tasks.

Last month, another 35-year-old Christian sanitation worker died after exposure to toxic fumes when Muslim doctors refused to treat him during Ramadan after deeming him “unclean.”

In previous years, Christians in Pakistan have been victim to a series of Islamist attacks trying to drive them out the country. In Easter 2015, jihadists targeted two churches in Lahore, killing 14 people, and the following Easter, a suicide bombing in a nearby location killed 72 people and left hundreds injured, including women and children.

Approximately 100 Christians are also detained every year on charges against Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws. In March, between 3,000 and 4,000 people marched on the streets calling to extend the country’s blasphemy law to include the death penalty.

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