Diwali celebrations in over 9,000 Hindu households may be dampened as the municipal workers failed to receive their salaries ahead of the festival being celebrated today.
On October 16, the Sindh government had announced that the Hindu workers will be paid salaries and pensions before Diwali but the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) and the district municipal corporations (DMCs) failed to release salaries for their non-Muslim employees. The KMC employs nearly 1,000 Hindu workers while the DMCs employ nearly 8,000 Hindus.
The KMC's employees' union president, Zulfiqar Ali Shah, told The Express Tribune that the Hindu workers were promised by the government that they will receive their salaries in advance for Diwali but the authorities have failed to do that.
Shah said that they went to the Sindh High Court to demand salaries, and the court had directed the administrators to release salaries. "However the order has yet to be implemented by the authorities," he said, adding that their Hindu workers went home empty-handed on the eve of Diwali.
Representing the Hindus employees, Master Shankar said that a large number of the workers bought ration and other items on credit from the markets. "People don't have money to buy new clothes or even buy firecrackers for their children," complained Shankar, who lives in Narayanpura, home to hundreds of workers working for the KMC and the DMCs. These workers are mostly employed as janitorial workers.
Shankar said that the Hindus municipal workers have never been paid salaries in advance before their festival. "This time we were hopeful that the orders will be implemented as they came way before the festival but we were wrong," he said.
Meanwhile, the pensioners of the Hindu community who were employed with these institutions have also yet to receive their pensions, he added.
KMC Administrator Rauf Akhtar Farooqui refused to comment on the unpaid salaries. He insisted that he was unaware of the issue as Karachi is a big city with several issues.
No public holiday
The members of the Hindu community were also disappointed that the government had failed to declare Diwali as a national holiday.
The chief patron of the Pakistan Hindu Council, Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, explained that the Sindh government had announced a holiday for their Hindu workers who are working in government departments. But it failed to declare October 23 as a public holiday, he added.
"Diwali should have been declared as a public holiday both by the federal and the Sindh governments so that the Hindus employed in private institutions would have also benefited," he said.
Earlier, Vankwani told The Express Tribune that the government was not willing to accept their demand of a public holiday for Diwali. Vankwani, who is also a ruling party legislator, said grant of a holiday will help reduce the community's sense of deprivation.
"We are patriotic Pakistanis and it is our constitutional right to have a public holiday on our annual festival," he said. "No political party is interested in resolving the issues of minority communities in Pakistan."
He said official holiday is observed on Diwali in over 10 countries including Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Singapore, Fiji, India and Bangladesh while in Pakistan Hindus are marked absent in the offices on Diwali.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2014.