On major Christian holidays, the faithful like to remind ourselves we’re fortunate — and not only that, but many of our brothers and sisters are far less fortunate than us.
We’re usually vague about what “less fortunate” entails. Perhaps we think they lead simpler lives; poor, without access to education or the necessities of daily life. Perhaps they’re persecuted, kept out of the mainstream of society because of their faith. Perhaps that persecution goes as far as jail, torture, or — heaven forbid — death.
Here at The Western Journal, we try to shine a light on these stories. (You can help us continue doing so by subscribing.) However, few bring the reality so many believers face home as the plight of the Christian sewer cleaners in Pakistan does.
In a video posted to YouTube April 4, Agence France-Presse shone a light on the terrible phenomenon. It isn’t for the faint of heart — but it’s one of the truest definitions of what suffering for your faith can entail in the world of 2022.
Posted by Agence France-Presse alone, the video received only about 1,600 views and no comments. But after it was picked up by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, its number of views on YouTube passed 90,000 and comments ran to more than 350.
“In Pakistan, sewage workers have to go deep into the sewers every day to manually clean up the dark, stinking sludge that often blocks pipes,” the SCMP wrote in the video’s description.
“It’s a task that many perform with their hands and all who do it have to brave the foul stench and toxic gas. Many sanitation workers in the country come from minority groups and endure social stigmas as the occupation is often considered impure by the Muslim-majority population.
“Christians account for more than 80 per cent of these jobs, according to the National Human Rights Commission. Experts point out that many families are stuck doing this kind of work as poverty prevents the younger generation from getting an education, leaving them with little alternative than to work in public sanitation.”
“When someone goes down into the sewer, they have to sacrifice all self-respect,” sanitation worker Shafiq Masih says in the video.
“When I was down there, water mixed with detergent fell on me because people inside the house were washing their clothes. Sometimes people go to the toilet, flush the toilet. And all the waste gets dumped on us.”
WARNING: The following video contains graphic content that some viewers will find disturbing.
While they only make up 2 percent of the population, up to four out of five jobs “involving refuse collection, sewage work and street sweeping” are performed by Christians.
And, as AFP pointed out: “Even in death there is no dignity” for Christian sewage workers.
“In 2017 Muslim doctors sparked outrage and protests in Umerkot when they refused to treat a Christian sewage worker overcome by toxic gases, saying they could not touch his soiled body because they had to remain pure during Ramadan,” AFP reported.
However, because of the primitive sewage systems in much of the country, employees like Masih are needed.
“Like much of the country, the drains in Lahore — a city of 11 million — are routinely unclogged with a long bamboo stick. If this doesn’t work, someone has to go in,” AFP reported.
“For doing this, and after 22 years of service, Shafiq receives just Rs44,000 ($240) a month — still, almost double the salary of street sweepers and garbage collectors.”
It’s a dangerous job, though; at least 10 workers have died since 2019 in Pakistan’s sewers, although families contend the real numbers are much higher.
“When you go to work, you are never sure you will get home,” sanitation worker Shahbaz Masih told AFP.
The 32-year-old was once overcome by fumes and had to be revived in the hospital.
While the caste system still plays a role in the poverty Shafiq and Masih face, it’s worth noting that, according to AFP, these jobs are reserved for “non-Muslims” — and entry into better opportunities would likely be available if they abandoned their Christian faith and converted.
And yet, they remain faithful that they’ll be able to create a better life for their children.
“It’s humiliating to get up early in the morning and do this,” Masih said in the video. “But we want to get our children educated, to find good jobs.
“Every human being wants to do good for his kids. So we won’t go looking for another job, but we’re not defined by this.”
No, in Pakistan, they’re defined by the fact that they’re Christians. But as surely as they know they’ll face Lahore’s sewers on the job, they must know they’ll face their Maker one day, and expect to hear the only words that matter: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
This Easter, let our thoughts and prayers be with them — and let our actions be directed toward ensuring they needn’t suffer this act of defiance, inspiring though it may be.
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