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The other side of elections: Pakistan's Dalit women assert for their rights by seeking space in country's politics

Krishna Kumari
By Sheshi Babu
As election results are almost declared, Pakistan is entering the new phase of governance under a new premier. Hindus comprise about 1.85% of Pakistan’s population. In fact, it has the fifth largest Hindu population in the world. Pakistan’s census separates scheduled castes from the main body of the Hindu population; thus they constitute a further 0.25% of national population. Clearly, Dalits constitute significant numbers in the population of Pakistan.
However, according to Chander Kumar, an activist, more than 85% of Hindus are Dalits. They claim to be living in the region which now called Pakistan for the last over 5000 years.
Chander Kumar has analyzed the plight of Dalits, citing work done by the Royal Mandate of the Dalit Development Programme. Several members of Dalit Programme identified the problems faced by Dalits in Pakistan, viz. caste discrimination, lack of education, technical skills, water shortage, overwhelming of the community engaged in hard labor and manual work etc.
Dalits also face hardships from the dominant Muslim community. Both Hindu upper castes and Muslim majority overlook them and do not address their problems on the political stage. Dalits in Pakistan remain in dire straits.
Dalits have tried to take on the ruling establishment, but it seems to be an arduous struggle. They have had to counter Muslim domination. They are struggling to come out of the narrow-minded of the ruling sections. The usual struggle in Pakistan against mass tyranny from those in power has continued.
Krishna Kumari became the first woman from the Kohili community of Hindus to be elected as a senator through the Pakistan People’s Party ticket. She is the second Hindu woman after Ratna Bhagwan Chawla, but first one from the Dalit community to be elected. She is a human rights activist.
In her interview with “Asia Times”, she claimed that discrimination of Dalits exists in India and not in Pakistan. She abhors being labeled a Dalit and insists that she would work for all Hindu and Muslim backward people in her area. She said, “We are not Dalit in Pakistan. These discriminations exist in India but not among us indigenous Hindus in Pakistan.”
Though there may not be stark caste discrimination as in India, Dalits in Pakistan also face problems. Since the entire Hindu community is being persecuted by the rulers, differences between castes in Hindus of Pakistan may have remained dormant. Other senators of the Hindu community also condemned the tag of 'untouchable' being labeled on her.
Meanwhile, two Dalit women, Radha Bheel and Lelan Lohar, contested as independents candidates from Mirpur Khas district of Sindh. In 2016, Bheel, along with some other members of the Dalit community, started a movement called Dalit Sujaag Tehreek (DST) to highlight the conditions of backward classes.
Contrary to Krishna Kumari views, Radha Bheel feels that the Dalit community is being discriminated against. She says that though Dalits are in a majority, tickets are given mostly to upper castes candidates. According to her, “No party focuses on the issues we are facing...”
Lohar, on the other hand, says that her real fight is with feudal lords, and points out that she was threatened and asked to withdraw her candidature, or face grave consequences. She was married at a very early age, and one of her daughters died due to ill-treatment by in-laws after getting married at a young age.
There are others Dalits too who filed papers for the recent elections. Some contested on general seats. One of them, a differently-abled, Ansoo Kohili, is inspiring. Earlier, Sunita Parmar, a mid-aged woman from Meghwar community, had filed her nomination papers to fight from a constituency in Tharparkar district. Following her, five more Dalit women have come forward to contest. They all are not satisfied with selection of candidates from upper castes.
Though the results may or may not reflect the victories of these women, their courage to contest should be appreciated. In a Muslim dominated country, Dalit women are taking up the cudgels to fight theocracy of the dominant religion as well as caste conflict in the Hindu community. Dalit power is becoming a potent force in Pakistan.

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