Two more Christians have died in Pakistan after they were forced to unblock a sewer without any protective gear.
Early in the morning of Wednesday 23 May 19-year-old Saqib Masih and Mushtaq Masih, 45 were called into work by their supervisor and told to open a blocked sewer in the Pakistani town of Chichawatni, in Bahawalnagar district in the Punjab. The sewer had been blocked for almost a year.
Like the majority of sewage workers in Pakistan, both men were Christians. Neither were given any protective gear to shield them from the poisonous gases.
“First Saqib went down and opened one side of the clogged pipeline,” said Rashid Masih, a Christian councillor. “But as soon as the line was cleared poisonous gases in the pipeline for months started leaking into the gutter and Saqib quickly fell unconscious.
“Then Mushtaq went down but he also fell unconscious. We called rescue services, but no help arrived. Another Christian, Gamma, tied a water-soaked handkerchief over his mouth, went down and brought out both the unconscious men. We took them to hospital where they were pronounced dead.”
In Pakistan, Christians are forced to do the kind of jobs which are deemed ‘unclean’. Pakistani Christians comprise only 1.5 per cent of the population, but they account for more than 80 per cent of the sewer and street cleaning workforce.
The word for low caste, chuhra, is a derogatory term reserved for sanitary workers and often used synonymously for ‘Christian’.
Cleaners often must hold their breath and dive into the sewage to remove a blockage. Many workers are paralysed by the toxic gas which attacks the nervous system. Many more workers, like Saqib and Mushtaq, die in the sewer.
Demonstrations after Saqib and Mushtaq’s death forced the civil administration to pay for the funeral costs. But it is small consolation that does nothing to address the deeper issues in society that routinely deny Christians opportunities for education and safe employment.
In January, a Christian man died in Karachi when he was cleaning a sewer. And a year ago, an unconscious Christian sewage worker died when a succession of doctors refused to touch him because he would make them unclean during Ramadan.
Pakistan is number 5 on the Open Doors World Watch List. Working through local partners, Open Doors supports Christians in Pakistan with emergency relief and medical aid and offers them a different path through education and training.