Fighting prejudice

Fighting prejudice


Members of minority communities traditionally associated with sanitary work struggle to gain respect

Fighting prejudice

KARACHI: Inside the slum area of Pahar Ganj commonly known as Bhangi Para in North Nazimabad, a group of young men sit at their usual haunt, reportedly drinking alcohol.

These unemployed youths say they have nothing to do with their lives; every night they drink moonshine and after getting drunk, they indulge in banter involving foul language.

Sometimes they get caught up in physical fights and the area people, fed up with their behaviour, call them ‘parasites.’

Technically speaking, Pahar Ganj is no longer an area of sanitary workers as the neighbourhood has produced a large number of doctors, engineers, academics, and paramedical staff also. However, being minorities they are often maligned by people who call them pejoratives even if they are accomplished professionals.

“The fight we still continue is to abolish the taboo related to all minorities,” said James Arif, who runs a welfare trust that helps underprivileged youths get an education.


Arif wants all the youth of the area to be able to leave the job of cleaning the streets and start what are seen as more respectable jobs in Pakistani society.

“There are several NGOs that are working in minority communities silently and helping them with education,” he said. “This is the fight we have to continue till victory.”

Fighting stereotypes

Rafiq Sharif, a retired sanitary workers’ union leader, also lives in the same vicinity. He said that they have had a long struggle in which they have fought to have themselves called sanitary workers instead of the typical, offensive labelling of ‘bhangi’ or ‘kundi’. This was important so that people would respect them but it seems all their efforts have gone in vain.

“Now people call us health workers or sanitary workers instead of bhangi but they think we are still untouchable and people should not share a glass of water with them. “Although as residents of Karachi we do not face the same taboos that our brothers in interior Sindh and Punjab would face, in order to earn respect we have to be educated and have to leave this ugly work,” he commented.


The Constitution of Pakistan, in Article 25(1), guarantees that “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law.” Article 5 provides that “Adequate provision shall be made for the minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures.”

Unfortunately, a lot remains to be done in this regard where minorities are concerned, commented Human Rights Commission of Pakistan secretary general Harris Khalique.

“What should we do as a community to increase toleration so that all people as citizens of Pakistan accept each other and have equal rights to live here?,” he asked.

The Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA) in a report titled ‘How Pakistan media report the issues of minorities’ has said that local media does not intend to include the issues related to minorities at large.

The report further said that half of journalists faced pressure from various social groups during their reporting on religious minorities.

Occupational hazards


According to Rafiq, the sanitary workers contract several diseases including hepatitis C. “We have to go deep in the gutter where the water comes into our ears and mouth and sometimes we end up gulping the gutter water.”

James Arif explained, “Our people are professors, doctors, engineers, and others who prove themselves in every part of society but people still consider us bhangis.”

Dr Beenish Shoro, head of psychiatry at a government hospital, said, “Social anxiety is most common among minorities as they believe people observe and judge them too much.” She added that psychiatric illnesses in Pakistan are widespread but consequences are often worse and more severe and longer in minority groups. “The stigma associated with seeking help is also higher among them,” she elaborated.

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