Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/©Gulf News

Krishna Kumari is one of the many candidates who submitted their nominations for Pakistan’s Senate (Upper House of parliament) election scheduled for next month. She has been nominated as a Senate candidate by Pakistan People’s Party. If she becomes a Senator, Krishna (38) will be the first woman from the country’s minority Hindu community and rural Sindh to reach the corridors of power.

Krishna is the face of a new generation of Pakistani politicians who are young, educated and passionate and positive about the future.

What makes Krishna’s nomination incredible is the fact that she is a young woman from a minority tribe and a remote rural area where her family was tied to bonded labour. Originally hailing from the remote village of Dhana Gam in Nagarparkar, Krishna had a tough life living in Thar, as a member of the 1.8 million-strong Kohli tribe of the Hindu religion and later as a human rights activist. She is a symbol of hope for many struggling women from rural Pakistan. The Kohli community is part of eight million Hindus living in Pakistan, according to Pakistan Hindu Council data. This constitutes only 3.8 per cent of the 210 million population of Pakistan.

Sindh’s rural population suffers myriads of issues — from limited access to education, health, basic amenities, job opportunities to the worst water crisis.

Krishna stressed that education, particularly for girls in Sindh and her home region of Thar, will remain her top priority for the next six years, if she is elected as a senator. “Education, health and water would be my primary target areas as a lawmaker,” said Krishna while speaking to Gulf News. She is perhaps one of the most suitable candidates for Senate membership, having witnessed the misery of the poor in rural Pakistan where she had spent a tough childhood.

Krishna, called ‘Kishoo Bai’ by her parents, was barely 15 years old and a student of Grade 8 when she was married to Lal Chand, a student of the Sindh Agriculture University, in Tandojam. The determined woman, with the support of her family and husband, continued her studies after the marriage to secure a postgraduate degree in Sociology from the University of Sindh.

Like many hard-working rural families, she also helped her mother with her work in the farmland, after school, she recalled. In 2005, she actively began working for social change in Pakistan, after attending several seminars and youth leadership workshops. She participated in case-studies, focusing on women in bondage, organised seminars on bonded labour, sexual harassment and other human rights issues. In her community, she also met and convinced many parents to send their girl child to school.

Fighting for the oppressed

Krishna’s brother, Veerji Kohli, was a bonded labourer too, who later helped many people escape the scourge. As a human rights activist, Veerji fought for the oppressed, including Hindu gang-rape victim Kasturi Kohli.

Veerji was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Tharparkar district and sessions court in a murder case in April 2017. After many Pakistani rights activists raised their voices in his support, there is now hope that he will be soon released on bail, said Krishna, adding that she was grateful to PPP leaders for their support in this regard.

Krishna reveres former Pakistan prime minister and PPP stalwart, late Benazir Bhutto, whose ideology, she believes, has offered Pakistani women a chance to serve at the highest public offices in the country. She is also grateful to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Benazir’s son and PPP leader, for nominating her to the Senate in a bid to empower women of rural Sindh. From Pakistan’s first female premier, Benazir, to the country’s first female foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, to the first female speaker of the National Assembly, Fehmida Mirza, the PPP is hailed by Pakistani women as the political party that has consistently promoted and empowered women.

Being a part of the minority has its own disadvantages, but the biggest downside, Krishna believes, is lack of education. “The real power is education. It empowers you to develop personally and become politically active,” she said. It was indeed education that paved the way for a girl like her, from the minority community, to come within striking distance of securing a prestigious Senate seat. Her inspiration comes from her father. Though himself uneducated, he was determined to educate his children.

Krishna, now a mother of four, has become a symbol of hope in Thar and its nearby districts where she has been fighting for human rights of the underprivileged people.

The province of Sindh is often in the news for its feudal culture and social structures where forced conversions, bonded labour, sexual violence and other crimes are prevalent. ‘Karo-kari’, or honour killing, and child marriage, also known as ‘sang chati’ in Sindh and ‘vani’ in the Punjab province — in which young women are forcefully married off to resolve conflicts and feuds — are quite common. In 2017, about 900 children were reported missing from Sindh and only 650 were later rescued.

A strong symbol of resistance

It is these crimes and abuse that Krishna aims to fight, once she becomes a senator. Krishna says she wants the implementation of laws protecting women and children’s rights.

Now with her nomination to the Upper House of the parliament, Krishna hopes that the people of Thar, especially women, will soon have their own voice at the top law-making forum in the country.

If elected, Krishna will not only become the second Hindu woman to be elected to Pakistan’s Senate — after Ratna Bhagwandas Chawla (who had served from 2006 to 2012) — but also emerge as a strong symbol of resistance for the country’s deprived and downtrodden.

Sana Jamal is a journalist based in Pakistan.