Who represents whom?

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The PPP is a strange political party. It has the ability to hugely disappoint or surprise one. If Bilawal Bhutto can take a bold stance against using religion as a political slogan and exploiting the religious sentiments of people, then the same party can form an alliance with Dr Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek.

If Bilawal, Qamar Zaman Kaira and Chaudhry Manzoor are the progressive and enlightened faces of the party, then Asif Zardari, Gilani and Wattoo represent the party’s traditional power politics.

Even though Zardari is not a people’s man, he was made the face of the Mochi Gate rally. It was an impressive show but the leadership failed to give a clear message. I am wondering why the party organised such a big show without Bilawal Bhutto. If the purpose of this show of strength was to regain the lost ground in Punjab, then I am afraid that the purpose was not well-served. Asif Zardari might be a genius at power politics but not an inspiring public speaker.

The PPP is a party dominated by feudals in rural Sindh. This is not surprising. This history of class society shows that the class or classes that own the means of production dominate the state’s structure and politics. The economic and social power drives the political power. Feudal landlords own both the land and the agro-based small scale industry in rural Sindh. Their economic and social position puts them in a dominant political position.

The PPP leadership likes to award party tickets to traditional feudal and influential families and individuals, but sometimes it can award a senate ticket to a candidate like Krishna Kumari. Her nomination came as a big surprise. It was not just significant in the sense that she is a woman belonging to a religious minority but also because she represents the most exploited, neglected, backward, poor and downtrodden section of the Sindhi population. She will be contesting Senate elections on a general seat.

Krishna Kumari is a working class woman who belongs to a poor family and the low-caste Hindu Kohli community. She has been through the horrors of feudalism and exploitation. She was kept along with her family and other relatives in a private jail of a feudal lord for nearly three years. This captivity and forced labour disrupted her education. Krishna was lucky that her family was freed from this private jail by the police. She was married at the young age of 16, but fought very hard to complete her education and help others change their lives.

I have no illusion that this nomination will fundamentally change the conditions faced by the peasants, low-caste Hindu communities, poor working class families and poor working women. But her rise can inspire and encourage other girls and women belonging to a community like hers to fight against exploitation and ignorance to change their lives; just as Benazir Bhutto’s rise inspired and encouraged many women to join politics. The increased participation of women in politics helped raise many gender related issues.

Social transformation is needed to change the lives of millions of peasants, workers and women and the most exploited and downtrodden sections of society. Without abolishing feudalism and introducing land reforms to distribute the lands to agriculture workers and landless peasants, no social transformation is possible. Social change requires collective effort and struggle. An inspiring, brave and courageous woman like Kumari can play an important role in organising the most downtrodden and exploited communities.

Hindus are the biggest religious minority of Pakistan; most of them live in Sindh. Unofficial estimates put the numbers higher than what have been officially declared. But various Hindu rights organisations have estimated that around 6.8 million or 90 percent of them are lower caste or ‘untouchables’.

They are poor, uneducated and have no access to basic facilities such as drinking water, sanitation and even schools. Most of them are either living on land owned by local landlords or state-provided land. In most of these districts, the Sindh government has been unable to provide land ownership to these vulnerable communities. They face discrimination of all sorts.

In Tharparkar district, around 700,000 or almost half the total 1.6 million population is Hindu; around 80 percent of them are from lower-caste communities, such as Meghwar, Kohli and Bheel. Despite working day and night, on most occasions these poor agricultural workers or peasants are not given their due share in the crop.

Although a majority of Pakistani Hindus are lower caste, almost all Hindu parliamentarians are from the upper caste, which creates a set of dichotomies: who will be the voice of low-caste poor Hindus in Sindh?

In total, there are 37 representative seats that have been reserved for religious minorities in various legislatures: 10 seats in the National Assembly, four in the Senate, nine in the Sindh Assembly, eight in Punjab and three each in the Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies.

Of these 37 reserved seats – meant for Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and other minorities – 20 are occupied by Hindu parliamentarians, 16 of whom are upper caste Hindus. In essence, they represent only nine percent of the total Hindu population in Pakistan.

Pakistan not only needs more women like Krishna in politics but also more people belonging to the working class, so as to represent the most downtrodden and exploited sections of society. It is they who can best fight for the interests of their class.