By Mahesh Rana
The case of poor Hindu women, working as sanitary workers, in Sindh induces one’s empathy. In the majority of cases, they are the sole breadwinners of the family (while some of the husbands died during cleaning chores) trying to support families. The extent of neglect and discrimination they face for being Hindus creates a situation of intersectional marginalization. One such story, of a woman, is documented here. She was attacked and beaten when mopping floors along with her son, in Sindh.
Toiling for bread, battling against hate
Lower castes in the Hindu community often find opportunities to earn bread through jobs in sanitation. I have personally noticed this to be the case in Sindh, during all of the years spent moving through various Hindu localities. The daily struggle these women have to face starts from home; scanty earnings fall short to support their families, and the situation has only worsened in the economic paralysis brought by the pandemic.
When they step out to work the social stigma comes to haunt them. A spectrum of hate-based names is what they come to be exposed to. Why? For merely being bold enough to try running the household and feeding their feeble children. Words as ‘Achoot’ (untouchable) follow the Hindu women wherever they go.
Sanitation workers, mostly from Hindu and Christian communities, are facing inexcusable neglect. They are invisible and ignored in the larger societal sphere. In the first place, the sanitary workers come from miserably poor and marginalized circles. An added layer of plight is added by their religion (which is not Islam) as that is seen as sufficient reason to discriminate against them. While they toil to earn some from the job that comes without the security they are also battling against a violation of basic dignity as a human. The disgrace must hurt immensely to this lot denied the basic rights.
Thrashed and thrown into despair
A couple of months ago Meena*, a Hindu woman, employed as a sanitary worker was beaten and abused by an angry mob of Muslim men. This unfortunate incident occurred in Shikarpur city. Upon research learned that Meena had to go through the traumatic episode because she was a Hindu. Cases and statistics tell that quite a majority of the Hindu women, working in sanitation departments, in North of Sindh are vulnerable to harassment and discrimination.
Jyoti Valimaiki, a 38-Year-old sanitary worker was another victim I met. She spoke to Ravadar, “as per routine we were occupied with the daily duty. I was mopping the floor and my son was cleaning that with a sudden sound a few men broke in”. She continued telling us that the mob started beating & abusing us, while we were clueless about why they were attacking us. “They were so charged, and not ready to hear a word, while they continued hurling curse words”. Jyoti was so heartbreaking while she recalled.
“There was no issue. And yet the constant abusing and beating of my son”, Why us? Jyoti asks. She also believes that their faith gave them a reason to violently assault them. “Is it because we are Hindu? No one abuses Muslim women like that”, she said.
The powerless victims, Jyoti, and her son, approached the municipal officer to register their complaint, but to little avail as she explains. “they did not hear me out. My voice does not matter”. She went to the police station after that but even there the complaint was not lodged. “Another refusal, another case impossible to report”. Something in her kept her going and she tried reaching out to the elected representative, and they did not take an action either. “I don’t want anything but please stop attacking and abusing us”, Jyoti appeals to the masses “Give us our rights, we are humans too and have the need to feel protected”
She also added that her late husband used to work in the municipal sector, and died during the duty last year. “We still haven’t received his death allowance, and to make it worse the job allocation on ‘son quota’ is only reserved for Muslims”. Whereas it’s the non-muslims serving as cleaners and janitors across the country – with little or next to no security of life and job.
Out, exposed for survival and sustenance
Ravi Valmaiki, 29, is active as a social worker in Sindh. “It makes me angry to think that the Hindu sanitary female workers are facing harassment and discriminatory cases while they are not getting their pay on time”, Ravi said. He urged the government to step forward for resolving their issues.
“These Hindu women, serving in sanitation, dedicate their day and night, blood and sweat, risking life just to meet their basic survival needs – that of Roti, kapra and makan”
The bigotry and bias towards the Hindu female sanitary workers compel them to think they are unable to handle people and protect themselves so they end up choosing to quit the work and rest in distress. The intersectional marginalization fuels social isolation which impacts the larger minority community, struggling to survive in Pakistan where a specific faction of Sunni Muslims are in majority.
Sanitation workers are those whose profession includes cleaning toilets, roads, public places, sewers, manholes/gutters, and operating pumping stations. They provide an invaluable service to the people, one that’s crucial to the run of routine life and the environment in a municipality. “Due to limited resources, they are forced to work in conditions that expose them to serious consequences. The debilitating and infectious issues they struggle with are in addition to the social stigma.
Ravi Valmaiki further adds that the “town municipal committee should give equal rights to Hindu Female Sanitary workers as many of their men died in the last five years while doing the duty, but till date, their sons could not be allowed jobs in the specifically designed job quota”. The discrimination is clearly on the grounds of their religious identity. “If they were Muslims they would easily get the death allowance and the son quota jobs with an unnecessary delay”.