On Sunday 19 June, a Christian brick kiln worker in the Kasur district of Pakistan’s Punjab province was appallingly victimised after confronting the brick kiln’s Muslim owner about being underpaid. Nadeem Masih, who has been working at the brick kiln for the past year, was beaten, shaved and made to stand on one leg under the scorching sun for five hours by Haji Musa and two other men.
Before beginning work at the brick kiln, Nadeem Masih agreed with the owner a payment of 962 rupees (£6.82, $9.19, €8.25 at current exchange rates) for every 1,000 bricks prepared, but instead only 800 rupees (£5.66, $7.64, €6.86) was being paid for every 1,000 bricks. Nadeem Masih asked to be paid what he had earned, but instead encountered the owner’s wrath, who – together with his Muslim contractors, Amjad Ali and Muhammad Latif – beat him and shaved off his moustache and eye brows.
While standing on one leg under the sun for five hours, whenever Nadeem Masih’s other foot touched the ground, Haji Musa and the two contractors attacked him again.
Nadeem Masih’s ordeal continued when he tried to approach the police to register a complaint. Haji Musa and his men threatened to kill him or fabricate a case against him of sexual assault against a girl. Nadeem Masih and his family, having been left with no other choice, protested in front of the City Police Station and appealed to human rights organisations to be heard.
Muslims and a high number of Christians (who make up around 3% of Pakistan’s overall population) work at brick kilns where pay is very low. Christians are especially vulnerable to discrimination, particularly when in debt to the Muslim business-owners who purposely make it difficult for the loans to be repaid. The debt tends to increase during the monsoon season when owners take advantage of the reduced working hours to increase the borrowing.
The work itself is also extremely demanding; the working day often spans more than twelve hours and often in scorching hot weather.
This poverty inevitably means it is difficult for children to attend school. Their parents cannot afford to send them and many children have to make bricks alongside their families simply to earn money for the family’s needs. Barnabas Fund is heavily involved in seeking to help break this cycle of poverty through its support of various food and school projects. This includes five Christian schools in the brick kiln area of Kot Radha Kishen which are currently benefiting 200 children.