On Monday 20th March 2023, CPPG organized the book launch of Swept Aside, A Story of Christian Sweepers in Pakistan by Dr. Ayra Indrias Patras. Dr. Ayra Indrias Patras is an Assistant Professor at Forman Christian College. Her main focus lies on gender, politics, and minority rights. She has written various academic publications and is an active member of the Women Action Forum. She has recently published her book. Along with her, two discussants joined the platform; Ms. Neelum Hasan, an Educationist and Researcher, and Dr. Asad Ur Rehman, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at FCCU. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Saeed Shafqat, Founding Director of CPPG at FCCU.
Dr. Ayra Indrias introduced the book by reviewing the literature related to her book’s main idea. According to her, it has already been substantiated in the existing literature that religious minorities in Pakistan have been marginalized on a social, political, and economic level. Whereas, her book digs deeper into the debate by investigating the intersection between caste, class, gender, and religion under the broad rubric of Sub-Alter studies. She argues that since there is no homogeneity within the Christian communities, thus the existing class divisions and contours within the community pave the need for researching this topic. Through this, she has also brought forward the voices of those who navigate through the uneven terrain eclipsed by various strands of marginality, and social and class divisions. Dr. Indrias’s book mainly focuses on the ways waste management is structured in Pakistan in relation to lower-hierarchy women workers engaged in janitorial services. It also explains how women navigate through these uneven terrains. Shedding light on the relationship of people who are on the fringes with the state and what is their perspective about citizenship. How do they relate to nationalism? Finally, what is the response of institutional churches to the challenges faced by the Christian community?
In her presentation she pointed out that more than 90 percent of workers in WASA and Public schools belong to the Christian community. An overwhelming number of Christians are working in this sector. Her chapter on labor presents a critique of the new liberal employment designs which have been absorbed by private companies. While this domain of janitorial services came under the public sector. However, from 2010 it was leased to Turkish companies which further leased it to private companies. This multiple leasing was quite a disadvantage to the sweeper community as they were deprived of their job security, pension, and medical care. Apart from that they suffer alienation from society along with socio-economic poverty. Dr. Indrias identified the gaps between the private companies’ contracts and practices. She remarked that these private companies are duty-bound to provide safety standards, free meals, and medical needs to workers but these workers are not aware of their labor rights and their ignorance is further played by their weak position in society.
Dr. Indrias further discussed the absence of technological innovation in janitorial services. The process of cleaning is manual and strenuous and continuous exposure to dust affects their health leading them to death traps. Whereas, the non-availability of public toilets for women is another kind of discrimination. In past, women workers were in larger numbers. But the hierarchy of private companies has contracted women employment opportunities in this janitorial occupation. Thus, the new liberal exploitative employment designs are playing havoc with their everyday realities.