Christians are in a considerable number in Sargodha. The community has churches at multiple locations and strong communal setups.
One of the Christians community members, Sajida, has been working for last four years as house help for a middle-income family in Sargodha. WhenCovid-19 pandemic came, everybody including Sajida were unaware of the consequences that it might lead to. In the beginning, she described, it was “disorientating as people had no idea what is going to happen to anybody.” Owing to the may hemand chaos created by the pandemic Sajida was asked to quit her job by her employers because they did not want her to bring infection to the family.
Remembering those harsh days Sajida contemplates, “I was really worried about my own family that where are we going to get the food from and other basic necessities of life.” Around the same time, EHSAAS Program, a social safety and poverty alleviation program launched by the government of Pakistan, was announced and 12000 rupees (USD 67) were given to each household. It was roughly the same amount that Sajida used to earn by doing several work-shifts in different homes and kept the family afloat as her husband was also short of work, who drives a rickshaw.
Just like Sajida, there are many other Christian young women who faced similar difficulties: being asked to leave their jobs because their employers were concerned about their own health. Among them is Zarina who believes that employers asked them to leave their jobs without considering how the poor people would survive. Some employers offered to pay the wages but workers were not allowed to enter homes for work.
The government of Pakistan launched its Covid-19 vaccination drive in February 2021 followed with the barrage of rumors that it was a foreign conspiracy to kill the Muslims or even the Covid-19 virus was “unreal”. Discouraged with these rumors Sajida discussed the matter with other women in the community and found that some of them shared the same level of skepticism. A visit to the church few weeks later, where a local religious leader spoke aboutthe benefits of the Covid-19 vaccines, helped partially Sajida to gain confidence in getting the vaccine. But horrified at the prospect of dying within two years after getting vaccinated, it was eventually her eldest son who convinced Sajida to get the vaccine. “He even told me that if people were to die like this then rich people would not have opted to be fully vaccinated,”she describes her conversation with her son.
Christian community in Sargodha is largely associated with the cleaning work. A considerable number of people, both male and female, work as sanitary workers in hospitals and all sorts of Institutions, while in the informal sector most of the women of the Christian community work as house help in different settlements of the city. Largely a working-class people, the ystruggle to make their ends meet. Most of the Christians in Sargodha have been ghettoized in specific areas where they own housing facilities, while others live in rented houses which is an additional burden on their income. Due to economic difficulties, children often drop out of school to help their families financially. Boys commonly work as electricians, rickshaw drivers or apprentices,and girls help their mothers as domestic workers.
George is a sanitary worker at Government Graduate College for Women Sargodha. Although he did not lose his job, he was not able to work until he got vaccinated. Sharing his experience, he mentions that he did not face any difficulty as he was not discriminated against when he went for the vaccination at a local facility. George told that almost all members of his family have been vaccinated except people back at his village who are still skeptical of the vaccines, “because people are less educated there and rely more on word of mouth than following the instructions of the government,” he explains. Georges aid that he had also heard all sorts of rumors, e.g., the virus was a hoax,or an injection would contain a microchip or even death in two years, but because of the nature of his job he had to go for the vaccine.
Shama, who works as a sweeper at the District Headquarter Hospital Sargodha, says that she wished the government supplied them with masks, hand sanitizers and personal protective equipment but they had to manage this on their own. “I was very concerned for the health of my children as I had to go back to my home after work hours and I was worried that I might transmit the virus to them,” adds Sharma.
According to Asian News International, the Provincial Health Department Punjab record shows that nearly 52 per cent of the total population of Punjab has been vaccinated with the number of people who has taken one dose estimated to be 67 million and fully vaccinated individuals at 49 million. The government has established around 33 vaccination centers in Sargodha including13 in rural areas. The available data does not count religious minorities separately.
Most Christian community struggles were related to the economic hardships. Secondly their problems came from the fact that they were employed as the sanitary workers so they were the first ones to come in direct contact with infected materials. They did not get any kit that protects them from hospital garbage as there was greater risk to expose to the virus.
It has been two years since people have been going through this pandemic. Most of the people interviewed were of the opinion that the rumors related to the virus and vaccination were generic in nature for all the Christians and Muslims or any other faith-based group. They all heard the same kind of things like the virus was a hoax, it had been created as a biological weapon or the vaccine might kill people. All of this did play a role in shaping their lives but their biggest concern was getting their kitchens running. So was for Asia who says,that when the rumors were circulating that the vaccines have been designed so rapidly for killing people in two years time, her employers did not go for the vaccination themselves but they asked her to come to their home vaccinated. Hence, for her she says getting vaccination was an ‘’economic pressure.’’ Later she realized that there was no other precaution except the vaccination.
Shama was of the view that this pandemic made the Christian community realist that people stand for each other in hard times. The churches were there to support people spiritually and emotionally and even certain volunteering networks tried to help people who were struggling with their groceries.