Tragic Deaths of Five Christian Sanitation Workers in Pakistan

Five Christian sanitation workers in Pakistan have died since Tuesday, June 11, from inhaling toxic gases, highlighting the severe lack of proper safety equipment for such labor, sources report.

Irfan Masih, Ratan Masih, and Babar Masih succumbed to the poisonous gases on Wednesday, June 12, while cleaning a sewer disposal well in the Satellite Town area of Bhalwal in Sargodha District, Punjab Province. A fourth Christian worker, Naeem Masih, is in critical condition at Sargodha District Headquarters Hospital.

In Sindh Province, Christians Yunus Hidayat and Yunus Masih, along with a Hindu worker, Badal Gujrati, died on Tuesday, June 11, after inhaling toxic gases.

The tragedy in Punjab Province occurred when a supervisor compelled the workers to enter a well without proper safety equipment. In response, the families of the deceased workers staged a protest by placing the bodies in front of the Bhalwal municipal office.

The protesters demanded that Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz Sharif initiate an inquiry and hold those responsible for the deaths accountable. They also called for the government to provide necessary safety equipment to sewer workers, lamenting that dozens have died from toxic gases without any effective measures being implemented.

“Our brothers continue to die in manholes, yet their deaths have failed to move the government,” said Sikandar Farman, a former member of the Bhalwal Municipal Committee. “How many more lives will it take for the authorities to understand the plight of these workers?”

Punjab Minister for Minority Affairs, Ramesh Singh Arora, expressed regret over the deaths of the sanitation workers and assured that the government would provide the necessary safety equipment.

“This is a regrettable incident, and Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz Sharif has announced a compensation of 3 million Pakistani Rupees (approximately $10,765) for the victims. She has also requested a detailed report on the incident from the relevant authorities.”

He added that the government has instructed doctors to provide the best possible medical treatment for Naeem Masih and wished him a speedy recovery.

A day before the tragic events in Bhalwal, two Christians and a Hindu worker died of asphyxia while cleaning a clogged manhole in Tando Muhammad Khan town, Hyderabad, Sindh Province.

Christians Yunus Hidayat and Yunus Masih, along with Hindu worker Badal Gujrati, were cleaning a gutter near a mosque when they inhaled toxic gases and died. Masih is survived by his wife and five children, while Hidayat, although married, lived alone. Gujrati leaves behind his wife and an 18-month-old son.

The deaths prompted an angry protest by relatives, who staged a sit-in that blocked the Tando Mohammad Khan-Badin road for four hours, severely disrupting traffic. Seven protesters, including three women, fainted due to the scorching heat during the blockade.

Tando Muhammad Khan Municipal Committee Chairman, Syed Shahnawaz Shah, informed protesters that the government would provide compensation of 300,000 rupees (approximately $1,077) for each deceased worker and promised jobs for their heirs. He also assured additional compensation from the Sindh government, after which the protesters dispersed.

At a later press conference, Shah announced the formation of a seven-member committee to investigate the deaths.

Marginalized Christians in Muslim-majority Pakistan often undertake the lowest-paid, dirtiest, and most dangerous jobs without proper protective equipment. Rights activists assert that despite repeated government assurances, the working conditions of sewer workers have not improved.

“Such incidents involving sanitary workers are not new; they have been happening for years,” said Sunil Gulzar, a Christian advocating for the rights of sanitation workers. “Many sewer workers have died or suffered serious and disabling injuries or health problems because they were not provided with safety equipment.”

Gulzar said that sanitation workers are among the most marginalized segments of Pakistani society.

“We have been making efforts for years to persuade the government to provide special protection gear to these workers, but all we receive are assurances,” he said. “It seems as if the lives of these workers do not matter to the state.”

Christian sanitation workers Shan and Asif Masih also died from toxic gases on March 17 in Faisalabad.

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