A Hindu woman from a lower caste has been elected to the Senate for the first time in Pakistan, a Muslim-majority country where religious minorities have long suffered intimidation and violence. Her election to the upper house of Parliament is being hailed as a landmark moment for the country’s generally oppressed religious minorities, especially Hindus, The New York Times reports:
The woman, Krishna Kumari, 39, a human rights activist and member of the Pakistan Peoples Party, was elected as a senator over the weekend. The governing party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, emerged as the largest party in Saturday’s Senate elections, ahead of the Pakistan Peoples Party.
“I feel delighted, this was unthinkable for me to reach the senate,” Kumari told The Associated Press:
Kumari, who was born and raised in a remote district, attributed her success to her parents, who encouraged her to pursue her 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 of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The party nominated her for a seat reserved for minority candidates from the Sindh province, where it holds a majority.
“I will continue to work for the rights of the oppressed people, especially for the empowerment of women, their health and education,” said Kumari, Program Manager of Development, Awareness and Management of Natural Resources’ (DAMAN), a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy.
Ms. Kumari — a native of the Tharparkar district in Sindh Province, a traditional Pakistan Peoples Party stronghold — comes from a family of peasants, and as a Dalit is a member of the so-called untouchables caste, The Times adds:
As a child, she worked as a bonded laborer, and her family was imprisoned for three years in a local landlord’s private jail. But poverty did not deter her from dreaming of a different kind of life.
She married at 16 but continued her studies and went on to complete a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Sindh, Jamshoro. Ms. Kumari has campaigned for women’s rights and against bonded labor.