In Pakistan about 95 percent of the workers involved in cleaning and sanitizing roads, hospitals, schools, sewers, and public institutions belong to religious minorities: these are men and women, especially Hindus and Christians, who are at high risk for coronavirus infection, reported Fides News Agency. They are the ones who collect contaminated waste in hospital quarantine wards and across the country, and risk being the most neglected. The authorities have not taken adequate measures for their protection. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, in a sentence of April 13, noted “also the conditions of the staff involved in the sanitation in hospitals and other places”, requesting that they “receive the necessary protection”.
These workers, responsible for maintaining the cleaning and disposal of hazardous waste of all kinds, are almost always without any protective equipment while performing their duties. “We urge a quick response from the authorities to deal with the situation because, according to the indications of the Supreme Court, the workers involved in the sanitation and in particular all the staff who work alongside doctors, must be equipped with adequate protective equipment”, said to Fides Samuel Piyara, president of the Forum for the implementation of minority rights.
Shahid Mushtaq Asi, president of the Union of Ecological Operators said that all garbage and waste of all kinds, including those of a sanitary nature, are collected by these workers, without any special precautions. “We have asked the authorities to provide disinfectants and gloves to these workers. And none of them have been tested for coronavirus. The Supreme Court verdict is not respected”.
Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ashraf Nizami, President of the “Pakistan Medical Association”, stresses to Fides that “the verdict of the Supreme Court is correct and must be respected: health workers who work in infectious wards need adequate equipment, as they are part of the medical professionals who are directly connected in patient care”.
“We appreciate the intervention of the Supreme Court and we are committed to following its directions for the safety measures of health workers and workers involved in sanitation”, said Ijaz Alam Augustine, Federal Minister of Human Rights and Minority Affairs, after visiting a hospital where all staff were equipped with adequate protection.
The fact that these ecological operators and cleaners belong to religious minorities is linked to the ancient castal conception which is still present in the societies of the Indian subcontinent. In Pakistan, this discriminatory practice has also been encouraged and perpetrated by public institutions, which ban jobs “reserved for non-Muslims”. These are jobs that Muslims reject. “This is a double standard”, says the “Justice and Peace” Commission of the Pakistani Bishops and “discriminatory treatment reserved for religious minorities”.