A woman from Pakistan‘s marginalised community, at the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy and a minority in a Muslim-majority country, has been elected to the Senate for the first time ever.
Krishna Kumari Kohli, a member of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), hails from the so-called untouchables, the lowest rung of the caste system that still prevails in Pakistan and neighbouring India.
Politicians in national and four provincial assemblies on Saturday elected half the 104-member Senate to six-year terms.
Kholi, who worked in the fields alongside her parents as a child, will take the oath of office later this month.
“I feel delighted, this was unthinkable for me to reach the Senate,” she told The Associated Press.
Kholi, 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 earn a university degree.
She later worked for a non-governmental organization before joining the Pakistan People’s Party of the assassinated 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,” she said.
Pakistan’s Hindus make up around two percent of the country’s 200 million people.
The victory of opposition candidate Kohli in the Senate election stirred a wave of optimism on social media, as Pakistanis celebrated the rare success for a woman from a marginalised community at the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy.
“Kudos to PPP for electing #KrishnaKohli…. Our parliament should have representatives of all religions, classes & genders in pursuit of true democracy,” tweeted rights activist Jibran Nasir.
Truly delighted: Krishna Kumari Kohli of PPP for being the first ever Dalit woman to become a Senator.
Well done, PPP, and more power to women from neglected communities of Pakistan on representing all of us in Senate 💚🇵🇰 pic.twitter.com/x5dih96x39
— Mehr Tarar (@MehrTarar) March 4, 2018
The recent elections placed the deposed premier Nawaz Sharif’s party with a majority of 33 seats in the upper house of parliament, winning 15 in Saturday’s elections. Former President Asif Zardari’s party came in second, followed by the party led by former cricket star Imran Khan.
Members of parliament and of provincial assemblies voted Saturday to fill half the seats in the Senate, or upper house, before elections due this summer for the lower house of parliament.
The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won 15 of the 52 seats up for election, to secure a total of 33 spots in the 104-seat upper house. Support from allies is likely to give it a dominating majority.
The Pakistan People’s Party won 12 seats and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of former cricket star Imran Khan came third, with six.
“Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has secured a clear majority in the Senate polls,” the party announced late Saturday on its official Twitter account.