An advertisement in a newspaper, regarding a vacancy for sanitary workers of BPS 01 categorically asking for non-Muslims to apply, alerted me to a grim reality.

In Pakistan, several maids working at homes of middle and upper middle class are Christians. Their husbands are normally associated with municipality and work as cleaners and sanitary workers. They do the most difficult job as they have to go into stuck drains and clean it to open the blockage. Most of them put their lives on risk and enter without proper safety measures.

Yet, these people face hatred from our society due to two reasons. One is their religion and second is their job to cleanup society’s own filth. In Islamabad and major cities of Pakistan there are separate residential areas commonly known as “Christian Colony” for these people. These areas are without any proper health and education facilities. Ironically those who are declared responsible to clean the filth of society, themselves live in pathetic health conditions. People normally don’t like to shake hand with them and keep “safe distance” and that is all due to their job nature.  This minority doesn’t get opportunities to grow due to lack of resources and education, so they and their generations live with this discrimination in a Muslim society. Sadly we do not take care of their kids and their social, emotional growth and stability.

One such maid works at my brother’s home and is really worried about her kids’ education. She sent her kids to a local street school in outskirt of Islamabad opened by some religious person. The school name is “Zahid Public School” and this is the lowest category school as she cannot afford high fee. She is scared of that brutal discrimination which is faced by her kids every day. She held her tears while telling her story saying “Can you please talk to school administration? They force my kids to learn ‘Kalmas’ and Islamic rituals. They are taunted by the teachers when my kids can’t understand anything or don’t do the homework. They are scared of telling the people about their religion otherwise the Muslim kids and teachers will taunt.”  Thus, the biggest problem that is faced by these kids is their survival as Christian.

Looking deep into this problem, we need to seriously work as society to payback those who are forced to do this “Filthy job” due to economic reasons.  Public schools do not offer Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism as subjects like Islamic studies; same is with the private sector who fails to cater the needs of these minorities. The religious discrimination also dominates in education where teachers greet on Eid but not on Christmas and Diwali, even if they have students from these minorities. This attitude gives a silent message to those minority kids that they are inferior citizens and Muslim community is not ready to give a right to greet openly on their religious festivals. Being little empathetic, think for a while; we are grooming another generation which is forced to think of itself inferior from early childhood and that feeling snatches confidence and will to groom. A generation of minority kids which will grow with a defeated state of mind where they have to respect all Islamic rituals and festivals but will not receive any little greeting and have to celebrate in isolation and silence.

Social and emotional stability is always a need of a kid, no matter what is his/her religion; but religious and educational discrimination in that early age brutally affects their grooming and develops a confused personality. Being a Muslim dominant society, we do not have a right to force these kids to make them learn “Kalmas” and Islamic practices, as suggested by the administrator of above mentioned school saying “Sir, don’t be too sensitive, we are not doing anything wrong. We are telling them how our religion is better than theirs” This explanation in favor of discrimination landed me in a state of shock. Think about a kid first and then for your religion. We do not have any right to do so without parent’s consent.

Being a teacher, I always remain very careful what to say on religious occasions and how to respond on greetings. For years, I have been greeting my Hindu and Christian students on their religious occasions but then I start receiving messages from Muslim community to stop greetings them as this will affect my own religion. This is beyond my conception because being a teacher I have to take care of every student regardless of their faith and belief. Social and emotional health is a fundamental right of every kid and state must protect.

There is a dire need to do strong legislation to stop hatred and discrimination in schools and bound all schools to provide equal opportunities for the minorities. Public and private schools must appoint religious teachers of Christianity and other minorities for those students; like they hire teachers for Islamic studies. Every school across the board should write and practice “Zero Tolerance for Hatred” and “No place for those who can’t give unconditional love to the kids”. The big school chains can set wonderful examples by taking initiative and can help in promoting inter-religion harmony. This is wonderfully done by Malaysia and I didn’t observe any such discrimination in their schools. This can be done by adopting the idea of “Whole Child” which carries few tenets and suggests that are (a) each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle, (b) each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults. (c) Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community. (d) Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults. (d)Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.

If you hate the one who cleans your filth and opens your blocked drains, first hate yourself, because you are the source of that filth. If you hate kids of other religion, never mourn over if the same is done by someone else against your kids. If you hate sitting with and listening to this deprived class, never expect a balanced society with mutual respect. Charity begins at home and instead of raising false slogans, it is better to work on way out and develop an empathetic society. Educate the kids and before that we need to educate the adults because empathy is taught not expected.

Article by Umair Qureshi - Teacher, Educationist, ASCD Emerging Leader 2015, International Conference Presenter, Tedx Speaker, Oxbridge Fellow, CEO 'Leaders in Education & Academic Development (Pvt) Limited, Founder and Executive Director Islamabad ASCD Connected Community, Activist for Educational Reforms and Legislation, Originated Nationwide Project for Teachers Empowerment & National Teachers Internship Program.