07/11/2006, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Christian kiln workers beaten

by Qaiser Felix
Father Mendes denounces the "inhuman and immoral" treatment workers receive. Catholic NGO calls on the government to intervene.

Toba Tek Singh (AsiaNews) – Three Christian brick kiln workers and their families were beaten because they refused to put up with their employers' abuse; their experience is not unique though. Most of their fellow workers have been subjected to violence and abuses by Muslim kiln owners. For this reason, a Catholic NGO is fighting for their rights.

Fr Bonnie Mendes, who won last year's recipient of the Association for Communal Harmony in Asia Star Award, made the allegations public at a press conference on July 7.

In his statement, the clergyman said that Sajjad Masih, Amanat Masih and Mushtaq Masih from the diocese of Faisalabad but living in separate villages refused to put their thumb print on a form as demanded by their employers. The latter were trying to get workers to sign an affidavit that would have required workers to pay them money not due. When the workers refused, the kiln owners stormed their homes and beat them up as well as their wives and children.

Father Mendes slammed this inhuman and immoral treatment meted out to Christian workers. "Owners think they [the workers] are slaves who have worked in such conditions for many generations," he said. But "they need everything: electricity, clean water, health care."

Ayub Anjam, human rights coordinator for the Human Development Centre (HDC) and chairman of the Brick Kiln Union, said that 70 brick kilns are operating in Toba Tek Singh District employing some two thousand workers who labour under unfair conditions, lacking even the most basic rights.

Making matters worse, "the police," he said, "is not on their [the workers'] side. In order to prove they were victims of violence they have to be treated by a doctor, who often refuses. Discrimination is at very high levels."

The HDC has appealed to the government and the High Court to investigate such unfairness and ensure workers "be left to live in peace."

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