Child marriages, forced conversion high on Senator Kumari’s agenda

ISLAMABAD: Krishna Kumari has become the first woman from the Pakistani Hindu community to enter the upper house of the Parliament.

Most of Pakistan’s Hindu population had fled to India, some as part of the population exchange but many others just fearing for their security following partition in 1947. Those who remained have since lived their lives on the political and economic margins, and like other minorities, they have endured discrimination at the hands of the majority population.

“I feel delighted, this was unthinkable for me to reach the Senate,” Kumari told The Associated Press in an interview following her election.

She attributed her success to her parents, who encouraged her to pursue education and eventually helped her to earn a university degree. She later worked for a non-governmental organization before joining the Pakistan People’s Party. The party nominated her for a seat reserved for minority candidates from the Sindh, where it holds a majority. Kumari, who worked in the fields alongside her parents as a child, will take the oath of office later this month alongside some of the biggest landowners in the country.

She vows to use her position as a senator to raise voice against oppression. “I will continue to work for the rights of the oppressed people, especially for the empowerment of women, their health and education,” she said.

The news of her victory had stirred a wave of optimism on social media, as Pakistanis celebrated the rare win for a woman from a marginalised community that lies at the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy. “Kudos to PPP for electing #KrishnaKohli…. Our parliament should have representatives of all religions, classes and genders in pursuit of true democracy,” tweeted rights activist Jibran Nasir.

Krishna’s rise to the Senate was not an easy one. Born in 1979, Krishna hails from Nagarparkar, a village in Tharparkar, where women are to date deprived of basic facilities. She battled hunger and poverty early in her life, and was also a victim of bonded labour. Her family was tied to bonded labour and she had work on the lands of village landlords.

Despite her hardships, driven by her passion for knowledge, Krishna continued her education at a ‘run-down’ school in her neighbourhood. “We didn’t have electricity so I used to study under the light of an oil lantern,” she told the media in a TV interview. She was married when she was in ninth grade. “Fortunately, my husband and in-laws were extremely supportive and encouraged me to continue my education,” she said.

In 2013, Krishna received her master’s degree in sociology from University of Sindh. Ever since, she actively worked against bonded labour, sexual harassment at workplaces, and for the rights of women and the people of her village.

Highlighting major issues faced by the people of Tharparkar, she said in the interview that child marriages and forced conversions were some of the pressing issues which needed to be addressed.

Published in Daily Times, March 5th 2018.