By Jawad Mazhar, Worthy News Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (Worthy News)-- Three Christian sewage workers have died in a toxic accident in Pakistan's Punjab province because employers refused to equip them with life saving appliances, Christian relatives said Thursday, April 22.
Three other Christian workers were rescued following the April 1 accident in the city of Jaipur Tamale, which happened a day before Christians celebrated Good Friday, Christians and hospital officials said.
Local authorities in the Tehsil area did not provide "adequate gas masks and suites" said Christian family members of the perished men, who were identified as Shamaoun, James and Raja.
Danish Masih, Ayub Masih and Younas Masih were still in critical condition at the regional Tehsil Headquarters Hospital Khairpur "because of inhaling large amount of toxic gas produced by manure," the hospital explained in a statement.
All men had been asked to repair a main sewer line which had been kept covered despite the accumulation of toxic gas. The impoverished Christians agreed to do the job after they were promised additional pay ahead of the Easter holidays, family members said.
However soon troubles began "when a sewage worker entered a sewer line trench and fell unconscious there," recalled Hamid-ur-Rehman Malik, a local resident who witnessed the accident.
He said, another Christian sewage worker waiting outside holding the rope decided to descend after receiving no response from the man who earlier went into the sewer line trench.
"He too fell unconscious and turn by turn all six Christian sewer men descended into the manhole with anticipation to save their fellow sanitary workers, Malik told BosNewsLife.
A special rescue began searching for all six Christian sanitary workers from the manhole, but by that time three Christian sanitary workers had perished and the other three men were unconscious and in critical condition, officials said.
The case comes amid wider concerns about the plight of Christian sanitation workers in Pakistan, who have complained about discrimination in the mainly Islamic nation.
The Tehsil Muncipal Authority said it would provide 50, 000 Pakistani Rupees (some $600) compensation for the families of all six Christian sanitary workers.
It was not immediately clear what other legal steps family members could undertake against the sewage company and local authorities. Rights groups say Christians have faced obstacles when presenting their cases to police and courts and have been falsely accused of crimes.
They refer to recent incidents that included police allegedly filing false charges of alcohol possession against 47 Christians, including women and children, on March 28 in an attempt to intimidate and bribe them.
Police broke into and ransacked the home of Shaukat Masih at 10:15 p.m. on Palm Sunday, manhandled his wife Parveen Bibi, and threatened to charge them and 45 other area Christians with alcohol possession if they did not pay a bribe, said attorney Albert Patras in published remarks.
Elsewhere five Muslims allegedly ransacked the house of an impoverished Christian in the capital city of Punjab province last month and angrily beat his daughters in an effort to get the family to withdraw rape charges.
Muhammad Sajjid wielding a 30-millimeter pistol, Muhammad Sharif brandishing a dagger and Muhammad Wajjad and two unidentified accomplices carrying bamboo clubs arrived at the Lahore home of Piyara Masih the afternoon of February 26, Christian leaders said.
Pakistan's government is under international pressure to improve the rights of minority Christians. Last month, Pakistan's charge d'affaires in Italy was called to the Italian foreign ministry in Rome to explain anti-Christian attacks in the Asian nation.