Pakistani Hindu woman enters elections; Once a landlord's serf

Discussion in 'Pakistan' started by farhan_9909, Apr 15, 2013.

  1. farhan_9909

    farhan_9909 Tihar Jail Banned

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    Once a landlord's serf, Pakistani Hindu woman enters elections




    HYDERABAD: When Veero Kolhi made the asset declaration required of candidates for Pakistan’s May elections, she listed the following items: two beds, five mattresses, cooking pots and a bank account with life savings of 2,800 rupees ($28).

    While she may lack the fortune that is the customary entry ticket to Pakistani politics, Kolhi can make a claim that may resonate more powerfully with poor voters than the wearily familiar promises of her rivals.

    For Kolhi embodies a new phenomenon on the campaign trail – she is the first contestant to have escaped the thrall of a feudal-style land owner who forced his workers to toil in conditions akin to modern-day slavery.
    “The landlords are sucking our blood,” Kolhi told Reuters at her one-room home of mud and bamboo on the outskirts of the southern city of Hyderabad.“Their managers behave like pimps – they take our daughters and give them to the landlords.”


    To her supporters, Kolhi’s stand embodies a wider hope that the elections – Pakistan’s first transition between elected civilian governments – will be a step towards a more progressive future for a country plagued by Islamic militancy, frequent political gridlock and the worsening persecution of minorities.

    To sceptics, the fact that Kolhi has no realistic chance of victory is merely further evidence that even the landmark May 11 vote will offer only a mirage of change to a millions-strong but largely invisible rural underclass
    .

    Yet there is no doubt that hers is a remarkable journey.




    Veero Kolhi, a freed bonded labourer turned election candidate, works in her house on the outskirts of the city of Hyderabad. PHOTO: REUTERS


    A sturdy matriarch in her mid-50s who has 20 grandchildren, Kolhi — a member of Pakistan’s tiny Hindu minority — is the ultimate outsider in an electoral landscape dominated by wealthy male candidates fluent in the art of back room deals.

    Possessed of a ready, raucous laugh, but unable to write more than her name, Kolhi was once a “bonded labourer,” the term used in Pakistan for an illegal but widely prevalent form of contemporary serfdom in which entire families toil for years to pay often spurious debts.

    Since making her escape in the mid-1990s, Kolhi has lobbied the police and courts to release thousands of others from the pool of indebted workers in her native Sindh province, the vast majority of whom are fellow Hindus.

    On April 5, Kolhi crossed a new threshold in her own odyssey when she stood on the steps of a colonial-era courthouse in Hyderabad and brandished a document officials had just issued, authorising her to run for the provincial assembly.

    With no rival party to back her, Kolhi’s independent run may make barely a dent at the ballot box in Sindh, a stronghold of President Asif Ali Zardari’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

    But her beat-the-odds bravado has lit a flame for those who adore her the most: families she has helped liberate from lives as vassals.

    “Once I only drank black tea, but now I am free I can afford tea with milk,” said Thakaro Bheel, who escaped from his landlord a decade ago and now lives in Azad Nagar, a community of former bonded labourers on the edge of Hyderabad. “These days I make my own decisions. All that is thanks to Veero.”


    BAREFOOT IN THE NIGHT

    Like millions of the landless, Kolhi’s ordeal began a generation ago when drought struck her home in the Thar desert bordering India, forcing her parents to move to a lusher belt of Sindh in search of work harvesting sunflowers or chilies.

    Kolhi was married as a teenager but her husband fell into debt and she was forced to work 10-hour days picking cotton, gripped by a fear that their landlord might choose a husband for Ganga, her daughter, who would soon be ten years old.

    One night Kolhi crept past armed guards and walked barefoot to a village to seek help. Her husband was beaten as punishment for her escape, Kolhi said, but she managed to contact human rights activists who wrote to police on her behalf.

    Officers were reluctant to confront the landlord but they relented after Kolhi staged a three-day hunger strike at their station. More than 40 people were freed.


    “I was very scared, but I hoped that I could win freedom for myself and my family,” said Kolhi. “That’s why I kept on running.”

    Now Kolhi spends her days careering along dirt roads in a battered Suzuki minivan decorated with stickers of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Latin American revolutionary, on her quest for votes. Her only luxury: Gold Leaf, a brand of cigarette. Her only campaign equipment: an old megaphone.

    While Kolhi clearly enjoys meeting supporters – greeting women by placing two palms on their bowed heads in a traditional gesture of protection – she has still only reached a fraction of her constituency’s 133,000 voters.

    The favourite remains Sharjeel Memon, an influential businessman and PPP stalwart. Memon was not available for comment.

    DAUGHTERS FOR SALE

    Despite the struggle Kolhi faces, the fact she is able to run at all has emboldened campaigners for workers’ rights in Sindh.

    Even remote areas of the province have not been immune to the influence of a more assertive media and judiciary that have reshaped national politics during tumultuous years following a 1999 army coup and a transition to democracy in 2008.

    “The landlords are afraid of court cases so they do not abuse and torture people as much as before,” said Lalee Kolhi, another former bonded labourer turned activist, who is no relation to Veero Kolhi.



    lalee Kolhi, a freed bonded labourer turned activist, smokes a cigarette while she sits on a bed at her home. PHOTO: REUTERS

    In some areas, land owners can still exploit a symbiotic relationship with the bureaucracy, police and courts to deprive workers of rights and attempt to sway their votes.

    Although Veero Kolhi works with a local organisation that says it has helped rescue some 26,000 indebted workers in the last 12 years, several estimates put the total figure of bonded labourers in Pakistan at roughly eight million.

    Not all landlords are tyrants, but the arrival last month of an extended family of 63 share-croppers at Azad Nagar, the village for freed workers, provided a glimpse of the time worn tricks they use to ensure debts keep on growing.

    Lakhi Bheel produced a scrap torn from an exercise book that declared he had acccumulated obligations of 99,405 rupees after toiling for three years.

    Bheel said he had decided to make a break for freedom after the land owner threatened to sell the family’s daughters in return for bride prices.

    “I didn’t eat meat once in three years,” Bheel said, adding that shotgun-toting guards had sometimes roughed up workers. “We had to pay half the salaries of the men who were beating us.”

    Kolhi’s supporters say the only way to end the oppression in Sindh would be to give destitute workers their own plots of land. But as long as the feudal class retains political influence, talk of land reform remains taboo.

    Undaunted, Kolhi — bedecked in a garland of red roses and jasmine — launched her shot at office with an ultimatum.

    “First we will ask the landlords to obey the law, and if they refuse we will take them to court,” she said, her voice rising with emotion. “We will continue our struggle until the last bonded labourer is freed.”



    Veero Kolhi, a freed bonded labourer turned election candidate, along with her supporters makes a victory sign as they chant slogans during an election campaign. PHOTO: REUTERS


    Once a landlord’s serf, Pakistani Hindu woman enters elections – The Express Tribune
     
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  3. Blackwater

    Blackwater Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    who will vote for her ???

    Indian Hindus????:lol::lol::lol::lol:
     
  4. farhan_9909

    farhan_9909 Tihar Jail Banned

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    We pakistanis

    Unlike india in pakistan it doesnt matter whether one is muslim or hindu.
     
  5. Blackwater

    Blackwater Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    For this i recommend Tamka -a- Jotha/ besharmi award from hakumate -a-pakistan for you :lol::lol::lol:
     
  6. Prometheus

    Prometheus Regular Member

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    I thought in Pakistan it was mandatory for all people trying to get elected must believe and swear allegiance to the Quran. She does not even qualify
     
  7. Virendra

    Virendra Moderator Moderator

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    :rotflmao: ........... :dude:
     
  8. trackwhack

    trackwhack Tihar Jail Banned

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    You really know how to self deprecate
     
  9. farhan_9909

    farhan_9909 Tihar Jail Banned

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    hope that she wins

    we need to raise the %age of non muslim in our armed forces upto 10% atleast.

    as per an older interview of cecil choudhery christian by %age compared to its population %age are highest in PAF
     
  10. bose

    bose Senior Member Senior Member

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    Do you know how the Hindu women are kidnapped in Sindh provence and forcefully converted to get them married to Muslims ??
     
  11. Blackwater

    Blackwater Veteran Member Veteran Member

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    No he does not want to know ,becoz he is an OSTRICH,
     
  12. farhan_9909

    farhan_9909 Tihar Jail Banned

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    Yes i do,and is indeed one sad situation

    she being contesting from sindh could atleast provide a slightest possible help to them incase of justice or preventing this further
     
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  13. bose

    bose Senior Member Senior Member

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    What I fail to understand is that pakistani's know the problem but there is no solution to it...

    The lady should be congratulated for her bold step... but she is fighting a losing battle... The discrimination based on religion in Pakistan is institutionalized and hardly any thing can be done...
     
  14. farhan_9909

    farhan_9909 Tihar Jail Banned

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    The old govt could not protect the shia when the govt from president to prime minister to foriegn ministers all were shia than what can you expect them from protecting the minorities

    Under new govt minorities will big given the best possible security

    she even if not wins.she has taken the step.

    but who knows?she may win
     
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  15. Prometheus

    Prometheus Regular Member

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    The Myth of ‘Free and Fair’ Elections in Pakistan

    Imagine if members of the Mormon or Catholic communities were forced to declare that they were “non-Christian” in order to cast a ballot in the 2012 U.S. elections. In a few months, Pakistanis will take to the polls to elect a new government, and for the second consecutive election cycle, millions of Muslims belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community —an intensely persecuted religious community branded “non-Muslim” by constitutional amendment—will sit home without the ability to freely exercise their right to vote. Pakistan’s little known voter apartheid system is not only a human rights debacle but also a self-inflicted open wound that all Pakistanis should acknowledge and treat.

    The equal right to vote is part of Pakistan’s DNA. Addressing Pakistan’s First Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, commented: “Every [Pakistani], no matter what his colour, caste or creed, is first, second or last a citizen of the State with equal rights, privileges and obligations.” Jinnah would later caution Pakistanis about the need “to stand guard over the development and maintenance of democracy.” In the face of Jinnah’s timeless pronouncements, however, Pakistan’s electoral system has devolved into a façade that conceals inequity and threatens the integrity of Pakistan’s democracy.

    For decades, as part of a joint electorate system, all Pakistani citizens had an equal vote irrespective of their faith. A Christian, Hindu, Sikh or a Muslim (regardless of what kind of Muslim) shared the same political franchise and same opportunity to elect political candidates for office. But in 1985, spurred on by religious hardliners who could not stomach sharing the right to vote with non-Muslims or minorities, the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq ordered a split of the joint electorate and the creation of “non-Muslim” electoral rolls where non-Muslims and Ahmadi Muslims (who were declared “non-Muslims” in 1974) could only vote for 5% of National Assembly seats allocated for them. This executive decree effectively disenfranchised non-Muslims who did not want to be segregated from mainstream society. For Ahmadi Muslims, in particular, the split of the joint electorate was especially pernicious because they were now forced to disavow their Muslim identity against their conscience in order to vote. Not surprisingly, after 1985, Ahmadi Muslims sat out national, state and local elections.

    In 2002, under rightful pressure from the international community, President Musharraf reversed his predecessor’s decree and reinstated Pakistan’s original joint electorate. Non-Muslims and Ahmadi Muslims lauded his executive decree as a positive step towards the restoration of Jinnah’s democratic ideals. In advance of elections in April 2002, all Pakistanis were able to register to vote using a form that did not require the voter to mention his religion. But within only four months, in a brazen attempt to appease religious hardliners who were upset at the restoration of the joint electorate, President Musharraf amended his presidential decree to apply only to non-Muslims but not Ahmadi Muslims (under the amendment, their “status remain[ed] unchanged” and they were subject to inclusion on a “supplementary list”). In this perverse arrangement, he effectively included all Pakistani citizens except for Ahmadi Muslims as part of the joint electorate.

    More than a decade later, Ahmadi Muslims remain victims of two presidential decrees that have snatched their right to vote for decades. Adding insult to injury, Pakistan enforces this system of religious segregation at the voting booths by reinstating voter registration forms that require each individual to list his or her confessional creed. Anyone wishing to be listed as a Muslim must denounce the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s founder—Mirza Ghulam Ahmad—as a false prophet and his followers as non-Muslim. (Notably, the same declaration is required on application forms for passports and national identity cards.)

    In the face of such stark evidence of disenfranchisement, Pakistan’s political leaders have exhibited willful blindness. Last month, President Zardari misleadingly assured foreign diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson, that Pakistan would conduct “free, fair and transparent” elections. President Zardari did not so much as acknowledge his predecessors’ discriminatory executive decrees. When confronted with questions about Pakistan’s voter apartheid at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review of Pakistan’s human rights record last October, Hinna Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s foreign minister, ignored the issue entirely. In 2008, during a similar UN session, Pakistan’s political delegation lied to the international community by insisting that Pakistan had restored the joint electorate for all of Pakistan’s citizens. As a result, Pakistan’s voter apartheid practices continue unabated, even though they blatantly violate Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been in force since 1976 and to which Pakistan has now acceded without major reservations.

    But the real tragedy of Pakistan’s voter apartheid is not in the resulting international human rights violations; it is instead in the disempowerment of one of Pakistan’s most engaged and intellectually vibrant communities. In a country with a 58% literacy rate, Ahmadi Muslims stand out as nearly 100% literate and are well represented in the professions. For example, Pakistan’s first foreign minister and celebrated world diplomat, Sir Zafrullah Khan, and only Nobel laureate, Dr. Abdus Salam, were Ahmadi Muslims (though Pakistani authorities have erased the word “Muslim” from their tombstones). Were they alive today, they could not vote in Pakistan’s upcoming elections. Hundreds of thousands of Ahmadi Muslim civil servants, entrepreneurs, educators, scientists, doctors and lawyers face the same reality today.

    There is a glimmer of hope. On February 28, the Supreme Court of Pakistan took a significant step towards ending voter discrimination against Ahmadi Muslims by responding to a 2007 petition filed by an Ahmadi Muslim challenging Pakistan’s discriminatory voter registration system. In its order, a three-judge panel, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and Pakistan’s Attorney General (AG) to explain the constitutional status and viability of the 2002 presidential decree. While it remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court of Pakistan will have the courage to strike down Pakistan’s discriminatory voter apparatus, the February 28 action marks the first time ever that any Pakistani institution has solicited an official explanation over voter apartheid practices.

    The window of opportunity for Pakistan to restore universal suffrage is rapidly closing. To restore free and fair voting rights for Ahmadi Muslims, Pakistan’s political leaders must demonstrate not only political will but also moral courage to confront anti-Ahmadi zealots—a difficult but necessary undertaking in an increasingly volatile sectarian climate. Indeed, all Pakistanis suffer when Ahmadi Muslims cannot freely participate in the political process. With the simple stroke of a pen, President Zardari can repeal Musharraf’s presidential decree and remove the irrelevant declaration of faith from voter registration forms, and millions of Ahmadi Muslims can vote alongside all other Pakistanis, as self-identified Muslims, without paralysis or restriction. All that is necessary is swift and bold action based on a rekindling of the democratic spirit that lies at the heart of Pakistan’s very birth.

    Amjad Mahmood Khan, a practicing lawyer from Los Angeles, is President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Lawyers Association USA and a post-graduate research fellow at Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @waxeloquent.
    The Myth of ‘Free and Fair’ Elections in Pakistan by Amjad Mahmood Khan « Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
     
  16. arnabmit

    arnabmit Homo Communis Indus Senior Member

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    What about Article 62 & 63? :confused:

     
  17. arnabmit

    arnabmit Homo Communis Indus Senior Member

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    All's good if the killings stop.

     

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