Kirshna Kumari Kolhi from Pakistan's Sindh province has become the first-ever Hindu dalit woman Senator in the Muslim-majority country, the Pakistan People's Party has said.
Kolhi, 39, belonging to the remote village of Dhana Gam in Nagarparkar in the interior Sindh province is a member of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari-led Pakistan People's Party (PPP).
Bhutto said the election of Kolhi, who was elected on a minority seat from Sindh, showed that minorities had rights in Pakistan and she could play an effective role in Pakistani politics.
Kolhi said she was happy that the PPP had reposed faith in her and in her work.
"I am a human rights activist and try to highlight the problems faced by the minorities especially Hindus. PPP could have nominated any other woman for the seat but they showed they have regard for minorities as well," she said today.
Known as Kishoo bai by her parents and friends for her fiery temper and activism, Kolhi said she knew how much work needed to be done for the oppressed and poor in the interior areas.
"I, my family members and relatives were in bondage labour in a private jail owned by an influential landlord in Umerkot district and we were only freed during a police raid," she said.
Noting that she was a little girl when the incident took place, Kolhi said it prompted her to fight for the rights of women and children belonging to the minority communities.
"My husband and family supported me a lot in my studies and work and it allowed me to get required education despite my Dalit caste background," she said. Kolhi's election represents a major milestone for women and minority rights in Pakistan.
Earlier, PPP had elected first Hindu woman Ratna Bhagwandas Chawla as a senator.
While Chawla belonged to a well-known Hindu family in Sindh, Kolhi is the first lower caste woman to come to the Senate.
Born to a poor peasant Jugno Kolhi in February 1979, Kolhi and her family members spent nearly three years in a private jail owned by the landlord of Kunri of Umerkot district. She was a grade 3 student at the time.
She was married to Lalchand at the age of 16, when she was studying in 9th grade. However, she pursued her studies and in 2013 did her masters in sociology from the Sindh University.
Kolhi had joined the PPP as a social activist along with her brother, who was later elected as Chairman of Union Council Berano. Kolhi also actively participated and worked for the rights of the marginalised communities living in Thar district and other areas.
Pakistan's ruling PML-N of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif yesterday won 15 seats in Senate and became the largest party in the upper house of Parliament, according to the provisional results.
Provincial and federal lawmakers voted to elect 52 Senators in the Senate elections, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Twelve seats each from Punjab and Sindh, 11 each from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, four from tribal region and two from federal capital territory were up for grab due to retirement of 52 senators this month.
More than 130 candidates, including those nominated by political parties and independent candidates were in the contest. Hindus makeup just two percent of the total population of Pakistan and have long complained of victimisation.
Hindu lawmakers have for long protested the forcible conversion of poor Hindu girls to Islam by some landowners and their religious leaders particularly in interior Sindh and Kolhi has also been working to highlight this problem.
Ironically, she will take her oath later this month to the Senate seat in a house dominated by feudal landlords, but social activists say her election even on a reserved seat is a sign of changing times in Pakistan for minorities.