Islamabad is considered one of the most beautiful capitals of the world due to its greenery. Greenery is a gift of nature but the credit of cleaning the city from dirt belongs to our dust collectors.
About 99 percent of these scavengers belong to the Christian community. Whether it is hot summers or harsh winters, heavy rains or storms, these scavengers reach the streets of Islamabad at six in the morning to clean the streets.
These scavengers are on duty on all our festivals except Sundays, including Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Adha, 14th August, 23rd March, Ashura and even 1st May, which is International Labor Day.
During Muslim festivals, their duties are made more severe and extended so that these scavengers can sweep up our spread of dirt late into the night. About a dozen Christian communities live in different sectors of Islamabad, but the largest number resides in H-Nine.
But ironically, most of their populations lack electricity, gas and water supply. Some people have installed small solar panels in their houses and the poor who cannot afford this ‘luxury’ are still forced to cook by lantern light and firewood.
Imagine that in the 21st century our scavengers are deprived of the basic necessities of life. Along with the personal lifestyle of these scavengers, the economic situation will also change. The profession of sweeper, which was originally assigned to the Shudra caste of Christians and Hindus in Pakistan, is now being pushed out of this profession and put against the wall.
CDA was established in Islamabad in 1960 and Christian scavengers were recruited to clean the city. But over time, as the population and size of the city grew, the contracting system was introduced in some sectors in 1994, allowing a large number of the Christian community to engage in the profession as private scavengers.
In 2016, when the mayoral system was implemented in Islamabad, the scavenging profession began to operate under the contract system almost throughout the city. Since the contractors are not subordinate to anyone, they hire people at low wages after getting the contract from CDA.
Being a private employee makes it easier to exploit them. Even on major festivals like Christmas and Easter, they are not given any allowance or three days holiday. Rather, these scavengers are constantly worried that their salary should not be deducted for absence in case of any accident or emergency.
They have neither annual leave nor sickness allowance, while the crude contractual system does not leave them with the possibility of being fired every moment.
Often the sweepers have been victims of accidents while on the job and even then they are not provided any kind of facility, except that a member of his family is recruited in place of the worker.
The possibility of salary increase of dust collectors is a distant thing, but often delay in salaries is a common thing. If they protest about the delay in salary, they are threatened to cut their names from Dahari to work quietly. In this era of inflation where the rich and the middle class are also worried, guess what will be the happy situation of those living below the poverty line?
On top of that, the CDA has announced the decision to fire hundreds of scavengers working under this contract system and have recruited new employees. These senators, men and women, have been protesting against this in the scorching heat for the last twenty days in front of the Sanitation office, but no hearing has been done so far, nor has any mainstream media highlighted this issue.
The tragedy is that how can this section expect anything from anyone as no government has taken any improvement measures for these scavengers who are employed in crude contractual system. We must not forget that it is the profession that keeps our areas livable as the scavengers clean the boiling drains and littered streets.
We should be grateful to the thousands of Christian brothers and sisters who have been cleaning the streets of our city for many years. Today, if CDA sacks these hundreds of dust collectors for any reason, how many families will lose their livelihood linked to this profession.
The scavengers are complaining to the administration that this one profession is reserved for them in this country and now that too is being taken away from them. These scavengers also have some innocent dreams that their future generations will be educated and connected to a better profession. These minorities belonging to this profession should not only be treated but they should be provided with all the basic facilities, which are provided to the employees of other sectors.
Note: Opinions expressed in any DW Urdu blog, comment or column are the personal opinions of the author, with which DW does not necessarily agree.