Establishing A Dignified Life For Sanitary Workers In Pakistan

By: Sharoon Javed

Ever since the decolonization of the subcontinent, both India and Pakistan had acquired certain traits from their colonial masters. In India, a term of ‘untouchables’ would exist even before the colonization. However, Pakistan, after its creation also inherited such terms. One of these derogatory and disrespectful words is “Choorha”, which is rampant in Pakistani society. This word ‘Choorha’ is used for those who work as Janitors or sanitary workers. Undoubtedly, this term personifies the utter hatred, disrespect, and the colonial mindset of Pakistani society: especially of the one in the majority. Mostly, Christians and Hindus are deployed on the tasks of sanitation-related work in Pakistan. So, calling them ‘Choorha’ is a slap to their self-esteem and also it deteriorates their passion to earn living through legitimate means. Currently, the socio-economic position of sanitary workers in Pakistan is dismal and their miseries are doubled when they are discriminated based on the work they do. Similarly, due to extreme dearth or complete unavailability of protective gears, a multitude of sanitary workers choke to death while working in manholes. Therefore, it is the need of the hour that a widespread awareness must spread among masses, so that people may start deconstructing their beliefs about sanitary labor in Pakistan. It is equally important for the fulfillment of sustainable development goals2030 and the lives of those engaged in this work. All in all it can be articulated that sweepers are the superheroes, who dive into manholes, clean our filth, and keep our environment clean. How can we not give respect to that segment of society to whom we all depend?


There is a clear stratification of society on the basis of the class system, which only bites the lower segment of society. Therefore, some are ‘Chaudharies’ (The Masters), while the others are ‘Choorhas’ (The Untouchables) in this social landscape. On the other hand, the socio-economic plight of sanitary workers cannot be neglected, which is in dire straits. Their lives are unpromising and unpredictable because they work in poor and unhygienic environment without wearing safety kits.

Moreover, in many institutions in Pakistan, only Christian (Minority) staff are being recruited for sanitation purpose that shows a thick stigmatization for this very job. In the metropolis of Punjab alone, around 80% of sanitary workers belong to the Christian community. Also, this stigmatization gets worse when the ‘theory of untouchables’ is being practically implemented. Irfan Masih is one of the victims of such stigmatization who could not prove that he also deserved to stay alive. He was associated with sanitation work and was unclogging a sewer, when a toxic gas from the sewer attacked him and he went faint. Battling with the evil of death, Irfan was brought to the local hospital in Sindh, Pakistan, but the doctor refused to treat (touch) him because he considered Irfan as unclean. And, with this dilemma, Irfan gave his life questioning the society that “hadn’t he the fair right to live?”

Additionally, when the significance of sweepers is assessed, it is pertinent that they appear to be the backbone of a clean, healthy, and hygienic society. Sanitation workers are an invisible workforce that is active day and night to keep the sanitation system sustained. They are the basic players who strive and work for the water safety and are the front-liners during the outbreak of a pandemic. However, their safety, dignity, and social security are pre-requisite to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030, which include clean water and sanitation for all, and the acquisition of decent work and economic growth.

However, among the thundering clouds of darkness, there is always a twinkling star, which remains a little light of hope. Henceforth, there are individuals parallel to this gloomy world, who are burning their midnight oil to de-stigmatize this menace of hatred and disrespect. ‘Sweepers are Superheroes’ is one of the platforms, which is playing its instrumental role to eradicate this shaming for sweepers and also is raising awareness among those who think that sweepers are untouchables.

In the same manner, the government must inculcate the true spirit of inclusivity and respect for the weaker segment of society in the curricula. When children are taught at school about the dignity of this work and other such works, only then they would be able to give respect to others. In addition to that, the Government can introduce cleaning campaigns at schools just like Japan Cleaning Tradition, where students are supposed to clean their schools at the end of their classes. This cleaning culture would teach countries budding youth that cleaning the environment is not a disrespectful or inferior act.

Similarly, there is a pressing need that the government must allocate a separate budget for the safety and security of sanitary workers and must provide them extra monetary benefits and health coverage. Moreover, the government is in dire need to implement the International Labor Organization’s Agenda, which seeks to promote a conducive, safe, and respectful environment for workers from all across the globe. In the same manner, there must be a compulsion of every sanitary worker to wear a protective kit provided by the department, because their lives are also important just like other human beings.

All in all, it is articulated that sweepers are an invisible workforce that works the hardest but their volatile socioeconomic condition and a widespread hatred of society tighten the rope around their necks. They work in poor hygiene conditions, where their lives are always at stake. However, in Pakistan Christians and Hindus are pushed to do this job because of the stereotyping of sanitary related work with specific casts system. Therefore, it is the need of time that a widespread responsiveness must spread among masses, so that people may start decomposing their rusted beliefs about sanitary workers. Only then would there be a fulfillment of global agendas of human rights and sustainable development. Conclusively, it is pertinent that nations reach to the zenith of glory who pay homage to their weaker segment, who give respect to their workers, who take care of the delivery of human rights to everyone. Similarly, Pakistani society needs to follow the footsteps of those nations who are the torchbearers of human rights and must award dignity to those who deserve it. Therefore Martin Luther King Jr. asserts that:

“All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

Where are you, my beloved?

by: Sharoon Javed

Where are you, my beloved?

Flying In these skies or

Of the other worlds?

 I always search for you

Like the lost in the sea,

Who Searches for water

To quench his thirst

Thou shalt search for me too

For, I am here, wandering

On the Earth of this world

 To ask you, extinguish,

The fire blazing in me

& to complete me

For I am halfway without you

 Where are you, my beloved soul?

I feel missing…

Like the body without heart…

Like the eclipsed moon without light…

And a man without sight…

 I am sloughed without you

Oh! My beloved soul

This hollow body calls you…

To get filled till brims

And to ask singing hymns

 Where are you, my beloved?

Flying In these skies or

Of the other worlds?

-Sharoon, 2017

Wistfulness of Time

She is a very beautiful soul, who heals me every day. Every day during holding a cup of tea with steam coming out, I look upon her in my dreams with open eyes under the dusky skies. And then my whole body gets a refreshing blast of happiness that purifies my time by stopping it for millions of years.

Each day, each day, when I think about her, a physicist borns upon my grave who, riding a time machine, takes me to an old city where a girl playing an old guitar along with a violinist who seems to be in love with her, singing requiems of that old guy on his Burial.

woman sitting on a window and playing the guitar

Photo by Hemerson Coelho on

Each day when I think about that violinist who would love that guitar girl, I chuckle unintentionally, that how mad he used to be.

But then travelling several decades, I again come back to my terrace under the same sky where an old man in Kurta Pajama stands with a cup of tea who’s steam has stopped making his spectacles foggy.

–Sharoon, 7 Feb 2017

The Unclaimed City

There is a narrow field between utopian and dystopian worlds. And It cannot be determined whether it specifically is a Land of outmost misery or a Land of everlasting happiness. Because it is yet to be claimed by the Lords of either world.

But the beauty of this small patch of land is that it has both extremes of felicity and Joy & Misery and agony and I am standing in this world of no-name being perplexed and disconcerted and waiting to get dissolved in the air of either world.

But isn’t it better to stay in that environment where I’d be slapped by the impulse of extreme Sorrow and then would be healed by a touch of Love?

But I always been conceived with a question, which has never been answered that :
Would I always be an inhabitant of a waifed Land?
Would I always be an unclaimed citizen ?

-Sharoon, 10 November 2017

The ‘Real’ Me

This is not ‘real’ me,

Real me is of a grotesque picture. Real me is a rugged man. Real me is a diseased man. Real me is here since the times of Prophets. Real me is disordered as the belongings of a street artist. Real me is illusory and distorted as Fata Morgana in the Sahara Desert. Real me has both extremes of Chaos and Cosmos.


Real me does not live here, but he is standing thousands of thousand miles away from this smiling man wearing these spectacles and a white coat.

-Sharoon, 13 December 2017

Am I a failed Artist? 

I am a failed artist,

So am a failed Lover

Let me hid myself,

Under this heavy cover
The life is continuous pain,

& this love is always vain

Making a sorrow’s chain

Working Without any gain
She comes here every day

I saw her on the archway

She still makes a melody

A cure to my malady
I think of her each-day

And think like a castaway

Am I a failed artist?

Am I a failed lover?
—The Hated Pen, 31 May, 2017

وہ اک دائمی سایہ

کل رات میں حقیقت کی تنگ گلیوں سے ہوتا ہوا خوابوں کے روشن میداں میں پہنچا, جہاں میرے ساتھ اور رُوحیں بھی اُتری تھیں۔ ہر ایک روح اپنے اپنے دیس کے مسلٔے کو لکڑی کی تختیوں پہ لکھےہوئے تھی، جو ان کے گلَوں میں لٹک رہی تھیں۔ کسی تختی پہ غربت کا آسیب سینہ تانے کھڑا تھا، تو کہیں وبِا نا زوال نے دولت کی تفریق کیے بغیر تباہی مچا رکھی تھی۔ کسی تختی پہ سیلاب کی تباہ کاریاں نسب تھیں ، تو کہیں خشک سالی کے بادل منڈلا رہے تھے۔ مگر میرے شہر کا غم سب سے منفرد تھا۔ میرے دل کی تختی پہ اک سایہ نقش تھاجو اس روشنی کے میداں میں بھی میرے ساتھ ساتھ چل دیا تھا۔
وہ سایہ اک نادیدہ خواب کی تعبیر تھا، جسے میں نے کبھی تصور نہیں کیا تھا۔ وہ سایہ ۔۔۔۔۔۔۔۔ وہ سایہ اِک اَن کہے مصرعے کی مانند میرے ہلک میں اٹکا ہوا تھا۔ جس کی بدولت ہزاروں نظموں نے زندگی کی آہ بھری تھی۔
اُس سائے نے روشنی کی کوکھ سے ہی جنم لیا تھا۔ جس نے اِک پروانے کی مانند ہزاروں شمعیں روشن کیں اور خود بُجھ کے راکھ کا بطن اوڑھ لیا۔
اب میں چاہے جتنی بھی روشنیوں کو اپنے باطن میں سمو لوں، مگر وہ سایہ میرے دل کی تختی پرہمیشہ نقش رہے گا۔ اور زندگی کی تاریک راہوں میں مرا حامی و ناصر ہوگا۔


ہجر کے وہ ماہ و سال

دِل ابھی بھی ہِجرکے وہ ماہ وسال  ڈھونڈتا ہے،جب میرے پاس کُچھ  کرنے کو ہوتا تھا ۔ جب میں جاڑے کی نرم دُھوپ میں ،شہرکےاُس پاربیٹھ کے اپنااِک شہربسایاکرتاتھا۔ کئی گھنٹوں اُس ویرانی میں بیٹھےرہ کرمیں اُس حسیں سرسبزوشاداب بستی کی سیرکرتا، اُس حقیقت کےقبرستاں سےاُٹھ کرخوابوں سےبنےچراغاں میں جا بیٹھتا،

وہ میٹھےپانی کابہتاچَشمہ،وہ سَرسوں کےپھولوں کاہواکی پُھونکوں سےاٹَھکھیلیاں کرنا۔ مگرافسوس ! دُورسےپھُنکارتی وقت کی ریل سب کُچھ روندتےہوئےآگےبڑھ جاتی، اوریُوں اِک آبادبستی قبرستاں کا منظر پیش کرنے لگ جاتی ، جہاں کئی خواہشیں دٓم توڑرہی ہوتیں،مگرکیامیں کُچھ کرسکتاہوں؟ ہاں کل کاانتظار،
اک اوربستی بسائی جائے

اِک اورقبرستاں کھوداجائے