Dalit human rights activist Krishna Kumari, 39, has been elected to the Senate in Pakistan — marking the first time the country has ever had a Hindu woman of low caste in the upper chamber. The news of Kumari’s election as part of the minority Pakistan People’s Party came as a relief to the country’s Hindu minority, a group that makes up four percent of the country’s population and in recent years has reportedly been subjected to forced conversions by conservative Islamists.
Kumari, a member of the so-called untouchables caste, was as a child forced to work as a bonded laborer — a practice denounced by activists as slavery that requires people to work without payment in lieu of an unpayable debt. For three years, her family was also held in a local landlord’s private jail. She was married by age 16, but continued her education, graduated college, and began campaigning on behalf of women’s rights and to end bonded labor. Her meteoric rise culminated in her nomination for a seat in the Senate by the Pakistan Peoples Party, an honor that she said had meant the world to her and her community.
“People of my community distributed sweets when my nomination papers were filed and greeted me with rose petals. I had never seen them so happy in my life,” she recalled. Her victory, she added, would serve as inspiration — and vindication — for her and other Dalit women.
“It is like for the first time in history that we have been taken out of a ditch,” said Kumari. “Finally, we are seen as humans.”
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