The tale of neglected population in the run-up to the election
By: Rana Malhi
UMERKOT: At dusk, Tarachand Bheel sits in his shanty home in Heerel village and reminisces about the 2018 General Election. The 37-year-old contested the election with the hopes to be able to generate employment opportunities for people like him, but he managed to secure a meagre 33 votes for the provincial seat from Samaro town in Umerkot district as an independent candidate.
“I contested the election as an independent candidate because the small and big political parties here were not ready to give me a party ticket. Rather, there are many such cases including Bheel, Menghwar, Kohli, who are not given tickets by any political party and are not given minority reserved seats”, he shared.
32-year-old young Dinesh Kumar Kohli is another member of the scheduled caste, referring to ‘lower-caste’ Hindus in Pakistan who are considered a different religious entity than Hindus, who wanted to contest the local body elections from UC Bodar Forum in 2020 to solve the problems of their community. Still, he too could not win because he contested as an independent candidate.
“Money plays a big role in our society, those who spend millions of rupees in elections, the party issues tickets to them. Thus, we have no representation of the Marginalized community”, Dinesh said.
Sources from private bank reveals us that in 2018 general election wining candidates was spent approximately 20 million rupees.
“Due to our lack of representation in the assembly, there are many problems in our community that cannot be solved, such as government jobs, good education, and many other basic problems. Political parties give reserved seats only to rich Hindu politicians” Kolhi
According to the Digital Census 2023, Umerkot district has 1,073,469 total population.
Muslims are 507,691, Christians 2,326, Hindus 498,949, Ahmadis 3,594, Scheduled Caste 60,875 and 34 are others.
Under the Constitution, Article 17 (Freedom of Association), Article 20 (Freedom to profess religion and to manage religious institution), Article 21 (Safeguard against taxation for purpose of any particular religion), Article 22 (Safeguards as to educational institutions in respect of religion, etc) and Article 25A (Equality of Citizens) gives all citizens the right to practice their religion but their implementation continues to remain limited.
Dileep Kumar Menghwar a social activist and scheduled caste rights activist of Umerkot said that government jobs have a close relationship with politics in our society. If you are not represented somewhere, leaving aside quota and favoritism, you will not get a job even on merit.
Because of this, the scheduled caste communities often miss out on getting good jobs.
The majority of the minorities are scheduled caste, they are living in poverty, and they cannot even dream of education and higher education, so the economic situation is hindering it.
Government jobs are mostly in education, health, police, and municipal systems. There are 209 total employees in the Municipal Committee alone, of which 60 percent are Muslims, while the remaining 40 percent include sanitary workers.
“The Hindu population is in the majority here, but there is no elected representative of them, while there are representatives of the minority Muslim population, since there is political interference in the jobs, the minorities are deprived in this situation”, he added.
A young social and political activist of Umerkot city Bheem Raj said that if a minority member is successful in the general seat, many deprivations of the lower caste Hindus can end. I myself will participate in the upcoming general election and work for these deprived people.
“All the parties that have been won in Umarkot have done nothing for the lower caste people, while these people ignored even in the lower grade posts in the MNA and MPE quota jobs” Raj added.
Umarkot district currently has one seat in the National Assembly and three seats in the Provincial Assembly, but the majority of mainstream political parties do not give tickets to any minority candidates on the general seats.
From Last decades Pakistan Peoples Party’s candidates being elected on general seats, even they did not given the ticket on general seat to a minority candidate.
In 2018 election Member of National Assembly was elected Nawaz Yousuf Talpur and Member of provincial assembly Sindh were Nawaz Yousuf Talpur, Sardar Ali Shah and late Ali Mardan Shah and after his death his son Ameer Ali Shah elected.
Currently, there are a total of 342 seats in the National Assembly. Of these, 272 are filled by direct elections.
In addition, the Pakistani Constitution reserves 10 seats for religious minorities and 60 seats for women, to be filled by proportional representation among parties with more than 5% of the vote.
Khatoo Mal was member of the national assembly from 2011 to 2013 on reserved seat by PPP. Krishna Kumari Kolhi is also member of Senate by PPP. Poonjo Mal Bheel was also member of Sindh Assembly by MQM-P on minority reserved seat in 2013 to 2018.
According to the Elections Commission 2018 data number of registered voters in Umerkot is more than 534,000 of which 54% are male voters. In the 2018 general elections, there were 49 candidates in the fray, out of which only nine were from the minority communities who polled only 1,741 votes in total.
Senior party leader of Pakistan People’s Party district Umerkot, Ali Murad said we have given equal opportunities for scheduled caste Hindus, even though we have adjusted them on reserve seats, and also given them a portfolio of special advisers of chief minister of Sindh.
“Khatoo Mal, was a member national assembly during the 2008 to 2013 tenure of PPP, Veer Ji Kolhi was also a special advisor of CM Sindh in the last tenure, and other so many examples and these all belong to scheduled caste Hindus”, he added.
A 2022 study conducted by the Centre for Social Justice on assessment of the delivery on party manifestos to protect minorities’ rights revealed that the pledges made by the political parties don’t attest to the gravity of issues faced by religious minorities, some pledges were counterproductive, and there has been a lack of follow-up on the pledges.
The study also revealed that parties in the government and opposition failed to keep their promises on ensuring minority rights and remained reluctant to address their issues.
Umerkot, also known as Amar Kot, is a town in the Umerkot District in the Sindh province of Pakistan. It is located in the southeastern part of the province, close to the India-Pakistan border. Umerkot has historical significance as it is believed to be the birthplace of Mughal Emperor Akbar. The historical Umerkot Fort is a notable landmark in the town.
The town is home to a diverse population, including many Hindus. The community includes Scheduled Caste Hindus, and the town is known for its temples. The economy of Umerkot is primarily based on agriculture. The region is known for its fertile land, and the people are engaged in activities like farming and livestock.
Earlier this area was a part of Tharparkar. After Umarkot got the status of a district, since the elections of 1993, Pakistan Peoples Party has been successful from here, while among other parties, the Muslim League Functional is the second largest party.
It has been bringing forward its candidates with the change of its allies. In the past, from the chairman of Umarkot town committee to the member of the assembly, the people of the Hindu community have been elected.
It is, however, important to note that that former dictator General Ziaul Haq has given minorities a separate electorate system which was practiced from 1979 to 2002.
The system barred people from casting vote for anyone who had a different religious identity and thereby, created a religious apartheid in the political system of Pakistan. This practice was observed in the local and general elections in 1988, 1990, 1993, and 1997. The joint electorate system was then restored in 2002.