Underrepresented Voices: Minority Women Struggle for Electoral Presence
By: Rana Malhi
Tharparkar: For the first time, a Hindu woman from Tharparkar, a desert area of Sindh province, participated in the general elections of 2018. 35-year-old Sunita Parmar was an independent candidate from Sindh Assembly constituency PS-56 of Islamkot area of Tharparkar district. Sunita belongs to the Meghwar community, which is considered a low caste in Hinduism.
She says that other ruling parties including the People’s Party are responsible for the plight of Thar, which have failed to provide basic facilities like health and water to the people of Thar.
There are still many people in the Thar Desert who are struggling to survive due to lack of basic facilities such as food and water.
The only source of fresh drinking water are wells, which unfortunately contain harmful water for both humans and animals. These people are forced to drink this water as there is no other option available.
The livelihood of these people depends on either rainfall or their livestock. During severe famines, men take their cattle to lush green areas to ensure their survival.
Getting fresh water in Thar is still a major challenge, as it often requires traveling long distances. Even after extracting water from a two-hundred-deep well, the water is usually more bitter than seawater.
Pakistan People’s Party(PPP) has been in government for the last 15 years but has not done anything for Thari women.
Sunita wanted to solve the basic problems of Thar by winning the elections of 2018. She says that before today no political party has given a party ticket to any woman from Thar to contest elections because they believe that women are honest and they will not support them in the corruption of these parties.
Neelam Kumari a local social and political activist working for a non-governmental organization working on women’s rights, said that the neglect of women is a cause for concern. All major political parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party, always talk about women’s rights. PPP gave the opportunity to transgenders to enter politics, but not gave a proper opportunity to Hindu women. In Sindh, the women of multiple political parties, ladies wing work for the party like a worker all year round.
When there is a meeting, women are asked to bring four busloads of women workers. But they do not know their rights. That is why hereditary politics is established in Sindh and eligible women do not get a chance.
Sunita’s constituency Islamkot is one of the Hindu-majority areas with the Meghwar, Bheel, and Kohli communities having a vote bank of 70 percent as compared to others.
According to the 2017 census, Tharparkar has a population of 1.6 million, half of whom are Hindus. Total registered voters 152,150, male voters 85,311, and female voters 66,839 in PS 56 Tharparkar III.
Sunita’s family and the Hindu community supported her campaign and collected money to cover the cost of nomination papers. She got 352 votes in the election.
In the Thar district of Sindh, women voters participated in the general elections in 2018 and set the highest turnout record at the national level.
According to the details,(Please refer to the source)the turnout of voters in NA-221 and NA-222 constituencies of backward Thar district of Sindh was the highest in the whole of Pakistan.
The total voting rate in NA-221 Tharparkar One was 68.6 percent. And overall 72% 83% female and 65% 39% male voter turnout. A total of 166 thousand 527 votes were cast in the constituency and 9 thousand 341 votes were rejected.
A social activist of Tharparkar Imtiaz Ali said an important aspect of solving the basic problems of Pakistan’s minorities and their solutions is to formulate a strategy to solve the problems by keeping the political affiliations of the non-Muslim representatives at the top. It will be possible only in this case that their representatives can correctly interpret the rights of religious minorities in the assemblies.” he added.
According to Article 51 of the Constitution of Pakistan, ten seats are reserved for non-Muslims in the National Assembly.
To further clarify this provision, the Constitution states that “seats in the National Assembly shall be allocated to each province, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Federal Capital based on population as per the last officially published census”.
Regarding the electoral system of Pakistan, the main issue raised by the minority community is the electoral procedure, in which the joint electorate system and the separate electoral system are discussed. When and how were the two electoral systems implemented for religious minorities? This is discussed in the report under review.
Talking about the general elections, the elections of December 7, 1970, were held based on one vote. One vote refers to the joint electoral system, in which a Muslim candidate and a non-Muslim candidate are elected in a constituency through a single ballot paper. In this election, except for Rana Chandra Singh from the Provincial Assembly and Raja Tridev for the National Assembly, no minority candidate could win the election.
On November 21, 1975, 6 seats in the National Assembly were reserved for the minority community through the fourth amendment to the constitution. In the general elections of 1977, 4 Christians, one Hindu and one Parsi became members of the National Assembly.
The general elections of 1970 and 1977 were held under the joint electoral system, while General Zia-ul-Haq introduced the system of separate elections after the imposition of martial law.
Daya Ram, a local social activist said separate elections, which began with the Minto Morley Reforms of 1909, were intended for the neo-demographic rulers to divide the population into Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, and Buddhists. According to this, the religious minorities could vote separately in the specific constituencies of their respective religions. “We are satisfied with the method of joint electorates in the general election, but the democratic institutions of the country should satisfy us with the method of special seats in the National Assembly.
According to the law, a 5% quota has been reserved for minorities in jobs, this law should now also be applied to representation in the assemblies.
“If this happens, the number of general seats in the National Assembly is currently 272. If the 5% quota is calculated, the reserved seats for minorities in the National Assembly will increase from 10 to 14.
Another important aspect is that the names of the members coming to the specific seats in the National Assembly and the Provincial Assembly should not be nominated by the political parties but should come under an electoral process. In the general election, all the voters in each constituency should also cast their vote for the minority candidate on a colored ballot paper”, he added.
Kamala Bheel and Sumitra Manjiani from the Hindu community have won on the ticket of Pakistan Peoples Party in the recent local elections in Sindh, after which Kamla Bhil was elected as the Vice Chairman of District Council Tharparkar and Sumitra Manjiani was elected as the Vice Chairman Municipal Committee Mithi. has been nominated. Both the women belong to Scheduled Caste Hindus.
PPP District Tharparkar’s stance in this regard was that the Pakistan People’s Party gave party tickets to two Hindu women Kamla Bheel and Sumitra Manjiani in the recent local body elections in Sindh and both were successful.
District Council Tharparkar House will be presided over by Kamala Bheel while Sumitra Manjiani is serving as Vice Chairman in Municipal Committee Mithi.