KARACHI: His innocent mind would inquisitively wonder why he had to drink water from a glass separate from that of his Muslim or upper caste Hindu class fellows in a remote primary school at a tiny village in the vast and mesmerising Thar Desert.

He only came to know from his teacher that he had to drink water in a separate glass simply because he was ‘untouchable.’

“I was hardly 10 when I was made realise that I am an ‘untouchable’, and an innocent and impulsive thought cropped up as to why I am so despite being the same as other people,” says Surrendar Valasai, who recently became adviser to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, heir to slain leader Benazir Bhutto and chief of the powerful Pakistan People’s Party, that has ruled the country three times.

Valasai, in his 40s, fought his way forward in this conservative society, to rise to the position of adviser to Bilawal, who is eyeing the highest executive office of the country in the coming years.

His thoughtfulness and revolutionary mindset propelled Valasai to so prestigious a position as the adviser to Bilawal.

Meghwar, Kolhi, Bheel and other Dalit, which are termed scheduled castes, make up 0.25 per cent of Pakistan’s 180 million Muslim majority population. The upper caste Hindus, who are known as ‘Jatis’, account for 1.6 per cent of the population.

Pakistan’s Dalit face multi-pronged discrimination on the basis of caste, descent and occupation. They endure marginalisation from the majority of the population and their own upper castes also look down upon them.

“Dalit women’s crafts are unmatchable. They embroider amazingly to create intriguing handicrafts which are valued by high class landlords and affluent people,” Valasai said.

But the poor women artisans have to drink water from their palms, joined together, with water poured from a container.

“This would always cause pain to the core of my heart and I would always contemplate as to how I could end this in my lifetime,” Valasai said.

Father’s dream

The poor, frail and young Valasai had to go a long way to transform his own wobbly life to be able to prop up his downtrodden and destitute community.

Human Das, Valasai’s father, was a poor mason but dreamed big for his son’s future. Das, who had lived in an orphanage from the age of 5 and never went to school, shored up all his resources to send young Valasai to school. Valasai strived to go all the way and enrolled himself in university in the mass communication department but failed to complete his degree.

Unable to launch a career as a journalist with a partial degree, Valasai managed to get a job as a proofreader at Sindh Express, a newly-launched English daily, in 1990. From then, he never looked back and began his rise.

To make up his incomplete qualification, Valasai worked very hard and his skills saw him become a reporter at the newspaper. He switched to Baluchistan Times, another English daily, and then to the daily Muslim. He became news editor at the daily Financial Post and was elevated to editor when he rejoined Sindh Tribune.

From his exposure to it as a student, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) inspired Valasai and he considered himself a political scion of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the party and the prime minister of the country in the decade of 1970s.

Valasai joined the student wing of the party in Diplo town in Tharparker district in 1987. He left his journalism career for the party and joined Media Cell Bilawal House in 1997, working closely with Benazir Bhutto and keeping her updated about news from Sindhi, Urdu and English newspapers.

Valasai’s appointment as adviser to Bilawal came as a big surprise to him as he never expected such a huge responsibility would be placed on his shoulder. But he felt elated in his new role.

“Being a scion of Bhutto, both politically and biologically, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has very loving heart and I can see his pensive face when he hears about the woes of poor and destitute minorities,” Valasai said.

“I will assist him in formulating policies that ensure promotion and protection of all minorities without any discrimination as was dreamed by the fathers of the nation,” he added.

Education push

To bring in changes in the circumstances of minorities, the destitute and oppressed people, Valasai prioritised education and believes it is an effective tool to remind the Muslim majority of the basic rights of minorities, which Islam guarantees to protect.

“Educating the masses is the only answer to the tyrants as almost 97 per cent Pakistanis are Muslims and Islam has always been a protector and defender of the weak,” he said.

He emphasises the need to refine existing legislation to stop hate speech in the country.