Wednesday, January 18, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Pakistan: Dalits and the Senate elections

The Express Tribune
Dalits and the Senate elections
By Letter
Published: January 17, 2012

KARACHI: On March 12 of this year, when Senate elections will be held,
Pakistan will become one of a handful of countries in the world where
the upper house of parliament will also have seats reserved for
members from minority religious groups.

Despite a surge in fundamentalism and extremism in Pakistani society
in recent years, the ruling PPP remains the major representative of
both the majority Muslim and different religious minorities. The
addition of minority seats was brought about by the passage of the
Eighteenth Amendment and for that the PPP must be thanked. The process
of election will be that each provincial assembly will elect one
senator to the upper house on a minority seat. This means that the PPP
will probably get two senators elected, from Sindh and Balochistan,
while the PML-N and the ANP will get one each from Punjab and Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa respectively.

Of course, while a good step, this does not mean that the
discrimination face by the country's minorities will disappear
overnight. A case in particular is of the Dalits, or Scheduled Castes,
who make up around 80 per cent of the country's Hindu population but
the country's Hindu politics tend to be dominated by those from the
upper castes. Even within the Hindu community, the Dalits are
marginalised and end up suffering from discrimination from members of
their own community.

The National Assembly and four provincial assemblies have a total of
30 seats reserved for minorities. Out of these, only one Dalit holds
such a seat, despite the fact that Dalits constitute an overwhelming
majority among Hindus in Pakistan.

Recent research by the Pakistan Institute for Labour Education and
Research showed that 74 per cent of the Dalit population of over two
million is illiterate and that 68 per cent has no access to health,
drinking water and other amenities. In addition to this, age-old
discriminatory practices such as being served in separate utensils and
crockery continue. Also, many Dalits are refused by barbers so that
poses a problem of its own.

When Partition happened many Dalits had the option to cross the border
and live in India, a Hindu-majority state. However, those who chose to
stay did so because they thought that India's caste system would hold
them back and that they would have a better chance for social
advancement in this country.

We hope that the political parties, especially the PPP, will consider
this when they decide on awarding tickets for minority seats in the
Senate elections that are now less than two months away. This would be
one step towards making them feel as if they are part of mainstream
Pakistani society.

Scheduled Castes Federation of Pakistan

Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2012.


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