An Election Commission of Pakistan staffer giving training to polling officers at a local college. — Photo by INP
UMERKOT: Advocate M Parkash of the Minority Rights Movement, independent candidates, minority activists and voters told Dawn.com that 80 per cent of the 1,40,000 members of religious minority communities, including peasants, workers and voters, in NA-228 Umerkot appear to have been made hostage to fear and pressure and face increased uncertainty in exercising their right of vote.
Responding to questions, Advocate Parkash said the absence of basic amenities was a result of bad governance and that the problems could be resolved only with collaborative efforts of the region’s religious minority and majority communities.
He said people had high hopes in candidates who were contesting on general seats and were members of the religious majority community.
The advocate added that people were not pinning their hopes on leaders from the religious minority communities as they were from the privileged class and had been making hollow promises of changing people’s socio-economic conditions.
Moreover, he said these candidates were brought over from other areas after paying hefty sums of money for party tickets and therefore did not strive for the development of minorities.
Political parties and minority woes
Dr Ashothama of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) told Dawn.com that manifestos of political parties were identical and had no proper plan to address the issues of security, development, discriminatory behaviour and laws, biased syllabi, bonded labour and agrarian reforms.
Ashothama added that voters from religious minorities should question their candidates on their roadmap to address their problems. He deplored the fact that not a single major political party had fielded a candidate from a religious minority on the general seat in Umerkot, when 49 per cent of the voters there were non-Muslims.
Independent candidates for Umerkot’s Sindh Assembly seats — Allah Bux Kunbhar and Abdul Karim Mangrio — said people were not free to exercise their right to vote in the district and were being held hostage on the pretext of spirituality, tribes and religion.
Social activist Kalavati from union council Padhrio farm said houses of people from her community were washed away in the 2011 floods, but despite the fact that two years had passed, people were still living under the open sky. She added that the discrimination was mainly on account of the fact that the affected people were from the Kolhi community (a so-called schedule caste in the Hindu community).
Rajbai Kolhi of the same area said her mother was given four acres of land under the Sindh government’s land distribution prorgram for landless peasants but her neighbours from the Muslim community had encroached upon it.
Intimidation and roadblocks
Girdhari, a young social activist from Samaro, disclosed that when he visited Majno Khaskheli village and other villages surrounding it and needed CNIC numbers of the villagers to enlist them in a door-to-door survey for voter education, he learnt that CNICs of more than 500 villagers had been collected by their landlord and had not been returned even after three months having passed. The villagers said they had been deprived of their CNICs because the landlord felt they would not vote in the election as directed.
Shirimati Tulsi said “no polling stations are established in the thickly-populated villages of religious minority voters because there were no government buildings like schools and hospitals”.
Tulsi added that now people from her community would have to walk miles to cast votes in other villages where discriminatory attitude was a practice and may affect vote turn out.
Shevaram, Bhoralal Kolhi, Pehlaj, Revachand, Sawai and others said that in the upcoming elections, votes were being bagged in the name of religion and spritualism, adding that none of their own leaders were in the race.
When contacted to comment on the collecting of CNICs and the absence of polling stations in the minority communities’ villages, the ECP’s district representative said they had strictly been restrained by ECP to communicate with media persons.