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Hindu Dalit Woman Elected to Pakistan Senate

Krishna Kumari Kohli today made history by becoming the first-ever Hindu Dalit woman Senator in the upper house of Pakistan, according to media reports.  Her election represents a major milestone for women and minority rights in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Pakistan Senator Krishna Kumari Kohli

Once a bonded laborer, the 39-year-old Kohli from rural Sindh was elected to a Senate seat reserved for minorities. She was nominated by the Pakistan Peoples Party.

Senator Krishan Kumari Kohli: 

Kohli, was born in Nagarparkar village in the Thar desert region to a poor Hindu Dalit peasant family in 1979. She and her family were held as bonded labor for at least three years in a jail run by a landlord when Kohli was a child. Married at the age of 16,  Kohli still pursued a masters degree in sociology from the Sindh University.  Kohli now works for minority rights, especially those related to girls' education.

Thar Development:

Thar, one of the least developed regions of Pakistan, is seeing unprecedented development activity in energy and infrastructure projects.  New roads, airports and buildings are being built along with coal mines and power plants as part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). There are construction workers and machinery visible everywhere in the desert. Among the key beneficiaries of this boom are Thari Hindu women who are being employed by Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) as part of the plan to employ locals. Highlighted in recent news reports are two Hindu women in particular: Kiran Sadhwani, an engineer and Gulaban, a truck driver.

Kiran Sadhwani, a Thari Hindu Woman Engineer. Source: Express Tribune

Thar Population:

The region has a population of 1.6 million. Most of the residents are cattle herders. Majority of them are Hindus.  The area is home to 7 million cows, goats, sheep and camel. It provides more than half of the milk, meat and leather requirement of the province. Many residents live in poverty. They are vulnerable to recurring droughts.  About a quarter of them live where the coal mines are being developed, according to a report in The Wire.

Hindu Woman Truck Driver in Thar, Pakistan. Source: Reuters

Some of them are now being employed in development projects.  A recent report talked of an underground coal gasification pilot project near the town of Islamkot where "workers sourced from local communities rested their heads after long-hour shifts".

Hindu Woman Truck Driver in Thar, Pakistan. Source: Reuters 

In the first phase, Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) is relocating 5 villages that are located in block II.  SECMC is paying villagers for their homes and agricultural land.

SECMC’s chief executive officer, Shamsuddin Ahmed Shaikh, says his company "will construct model towns with all basic facilities including schools, healthcare, drinking water and filter plants and also allocate land for livestock grazing,” according to thethirdpole.net He says that the company is paying villagers above market prices for their land – Rs. 185,000 ($ 1,900) per acre.

Hindu Women Employment:

Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC), the largest contractor working in Thar desert coal project, has committed itself to hiring locals wherever possible.

When SECMC launched its Female Dump Truck Driver Program near the town of Islamkot in Thar,  Kiran Sadhwani, a female engineer, visited several villages to motivate women to apply for the job and empower themselves, according to Express Tribune newspaper. “Not all women who are working as dumper drivers are poor or in dire need of money. It is just that they want to work and earn a living for themselves and improve the lives of their families,” she told the paper.

SEMC is hiring 30 women truck drivers for its Thar projects, according to Dawn newspaper.

Summary:

Krishna Kumari Kohli today made history by becoming the first-ever Hindu Dalit woman Senator in the upper house of Pakistan, according to media reports.  Her election represents a major milestone for women and minority rights in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Beyond the symbolic election of Senator Kohli, it is good to see that Thar development boom is empowering Pakistani Hindu women with jobs in nontraditional occupations ranging from engineering to truck driving. These pioneering women will inspire and empower young girls to pursue their dreams in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Working Women Seeding a Silent Revolution in Pakistan

Thar Development Boom in Pakistan

Abundant, Cheap Coal Power for Pakistan

Fact-Checking Farahnaz Ispahani's Claims on Pakistani Minorities

Pakistani Hindu Population Fastest Growing in the World

Recurring Droughts in Pakistan

Thar Drought: Pre-cursor to Dust Bowl in Pakistan?

Campaign of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt About CPEC

Views: 140

Comment by Riaz Haq on March 15, 2018 at 9:02pm

#Pakistan's first #Hindu #Dalit #woman #Senator Krishna Kumari Kohli : ‘My first priority is health, education of Thari women’

https://www.dawn.com/news/1395331/living-colours-my-first-priority-...

In the third grade, Krishna Kumari Kohli was held captive in a private jail with her family for three years in rural Sindh. At 16, she was married. Ms Kohli became the first Hindu Dalit woman to be elected to the Senate. Also known as Kishoo Bai, Ms Kohli was elected on a reserved seat on a PPP ticket. Prior to becoming a senator, she was an activist in a village in Nagarparkar.

Dawn caught up with her in Islamabad and talked about her struggle for her rights of the people of Tharparkar.

Q: How were you able to continue your studies after you were married?

A: My husband, Lal Chand, was 19 at the time of our marriage and he too was studying in Hyderabad, and my in-laws also supported girls’ education.

It so happened that my sister-in-law was a doctor in a community of two million, so I had all the support. The only issue was that I moved into a joint family, so in addition to my studies I had to take care of my ailing in-laws and do other household work as well. My biggest issue was time management; my home was in Mirpurkhas and my college in Hyderabad.

Q: You have worked on various social and community issues as an activist. How do you see yourself bringing a change sitting in the Senate?

A: My brother Veerji Kohli is a licensed lawyer and has been fighting cases of bonded labour, rape, domestic violence and other social community-based issues. He has been implicated in many false cases by the feudals of our area, but nothing has stopped him or me from continuing our struggle.

We work together, and I will act as a bridge between his struggle for the people of Tharparkar and the Senate. I have worked with my family in the lands of village landlords, I have been a victim of bonded labour, I have seen minor girls raped and marginalised communities in our area suffer the wrath of feudal lords – not to mention forced conversions of minorities in Sindh. So my agenda is very focused for my term in Senate.

Q: What inspired you to become a voice of your community and rise against feudalism, knowing the consequences?

A: My brother and I attended the Mehergarh Youth Leadership Camp in 2007. Mehergarh is a centre for learning in the area of human rights in Pakistan. They organise annual camps to promote peace and harmony, which draw participants from across the country, from all religious and a range of backgrounds.

I am proud to say that it served as a catalyst. I am not the same person anymore. I made a commitment to myself that I have to speak, I have to rise and I have to deliver.

Q: What will be the first agenda you will introduce as senator?

A: The right to basic health and education for the women of Tharparkar. My first and foremost priority is health and education for the people of Thar, and in particular the women of Tharparkar.

Our area is deprived of basic education and health facilities. For ailing mothers and children, the only hope of survival is the Mithi District Hospital, approximately 150 kilometres away.

The lack of dispensaries, basic health units and meagre supply of emergency medicines result in deaths of newborns and their malnourished expectant mothers. Pre-birth deaths, lack of hospital facilities, medical centres and schools for girls’ education are nonexistent in Thar. We have to travel miles and miles.

Comment by Riaz Haq on August 7, 2018 at 7:45pm

BBC News - #Pakistan's first lawmaker of #African descent raises hopes for #Sidi community. Sidis descended from #slaves brought to #India from East #Africa by #Portuguese. Their ancestors were also soldiers, traders, pearl divers, #Muslim pilgrims. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-45099970

Pakistan is set to have its first ever lawmaker of African descent, raising the profile of a small and mostly poor community that has been in the region for centuries.

Tanzeela Qambrani, 39, was nominated by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to a women's reserved seat in the regional parliament of southern Sindh province.

She hopes her nomination after last month's election will help wash away the stigma attached to the Sidi community, the local name for the ethnic African population concentrated in the coastal regions of Makran and Sindh.

"As a tiny minority lost in the midst of local populations, we have struggled to preserve our African roots and cultural expression, but I look forward to the day when the name Sidi will evoke respect, not contempt," Ms Qambrani, whose ancestors came from Tanzania, told the BBC.

Many Sidis are believed to be descended from slaves brought to India from East Africa by the Portuguese. Historians say their ancestors were also soldiers, traders, pearl divers and Muslim pilgrims.

They enjoyed senior positions during the Mughal empire but faced discrimination under British colonial rule.

Estimates put their population in Pakistan in the tens of thousands. They are well-integrated but keep alive some traditions, including an annual festival that blends Islamic mysticism, crocodiles and singing in a blend of Swahili and a local language called Baluchi.

Sidi communities also live in the Indian states of Karnataka, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.

The Sidis dominate the Lyari district of Karachi and have been staunch supporters of the PPP, now chaired by Benazir Bhutto's son, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto.

However, no Sidi had ever made it to parliament until Mr Bhutto Zardari nominated Ms Qambrani for the reserved seat.

"Just as Columbus discovered America, Bilawal has discovered Sidis," said Ms Qambrani, whose great-grandparents came to Sindh from Tanzania.

The PPP came third in the recent general election, which was won by former cricketer Imran Khan's PTI party. However the PPP again won the most seats in the Sindh provincial assembly.

Can Imran Khan change Pakistan?
Ms Qambrani, a computer science postgraduate with three children, hails from the coastal area of Badin. Her father, Abdul Bari, was a lawyer while her mother is a retired school teacher.

Her family has kept its African connections alive; one of her sisters was married in Tanzania, while another has a husband from Ghana.

"When my sister married a Ghanaian husband, local youths and guests from Ghana put on such a show in our neighbourhood," she said.

"They danced those typical Sidi steps to the Mogo drumbeat which they say comes from Ghana but which we've traditionally played in our homes. You couldn't tell a Sidi dancer apart from an African."

Comment by Riaz Haq on October 10, 2018 at 8:28am

#Pakistan's Mithi, an oasis of #Muslim-#Hindu tolerance - Mutual respect. #Mithi is a mostly Hindu city of 60,000 people, a rarity in a country where some 95 percent of the population is Muslim. http://www.ecoti.in/SRbRmY via @economictimes

Mutual respect
Cows roam freely in the Pakistani city of Mithi, as in neighbouring India. Considered sacred animals among Hindus, they embody the religious tolerance of this community in conservative Muslim Pakistan, where minorities face heavy discrimination.

Here, "Muslims respect the beliefs of Hindus," said Sham Das, a 72-year-old pensioner. "They do not kill cows, or only in remote places, but not in Hindu neighbourhoods."

A rarity
Unlike in the rest of Pakistan, cattle in Mithi live very well. They eat as they please, often from rubbish bins, and fall asleep on the roads.

At times tuk-tuks and motorcycles navigate a weaving path around the animals. At others the traffic waits patiently for them to wake.

Mithi is a mostly Hindu city of 60,000 people, a rarity in a country where some 95 percent of the population is Muslim.

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