In the third grade, Krishna Kumari Kohli was held captive in a private jail with her family for three years in rural Sindh. At 16, she was married. Ms Kohli became the first Hindu Dalit woman to be elected to the Senate. Also known as Kishoo Bai, Ms Kohli was elected on a reserved seat on a PPP ticket. Prior to becoming a senator, she was an activist in a village in Nagarparkar.

Dawn caught up with her in Islamabad and talked about her struggle for her rights of the people of Tharparkar.

Q: How were you able to continue your studies after you were married?

A: My husband, Lal Chand, was 19 at the time of our marriage and he too was studying in Hyderabad, and my in-laws also supported girls’ education.

It so happened that my sister-in-law was a doctor in a community of two million, so I had all the support. The only issue was that I moved into a joint family, so in addition to my studies I had to take care of my ailing in-laws and do other household work as well. My biggest issue was time management; my home was in Mirpurkhas and my college in Hyderabad.

Q: You have worked on various social and community issues as an activist. How do you see yourself bringing a change sitting in the Senate?

A: My brother Veerji Kohli is a licensed lawyer and has been fighting cases of bonded labour, rape, domestic violence and other social community-based issues. He has been implicated in many false cases by the feudals of our area, but nothing has stopped him or me from continuing our struggle.

We work together, and I will act as a bridge between his struggle for the people of Tharparkar and the Senate. I have worked with my family in the lands of village landlords, I have been a victim of bonded labour, I have seen minor girls raped and marginalised communities in our area suffer the wrath of feudal lords – not to mention forced conversions of minorities in Sindh. So my agenda is very focused for my term in Senate.

Q: What inspired you to become a voice of your community and rise against feudalism, knowing the consequences?

A: My brother and I attended the Mehergarh Youth Leadership Camp in 2007. Mehergarh is a centre for learning in the area of human rights in Pakistan. They organise annual camps to promote peace and harmony, which draw participants from across the country, from all religious and a range of backgrounds.

I am proud to say that it served as a catalyst. I am not the same person anymore. I made a commitment to myself that I have to speak, I have to rise and I have to deliver.

Q: What will be the first agenda you will introduce as senator?

A: The right to basic health and education for the women of Tharparkar. My first and foremost priority is health and education for the people of Thar, and in particular the women of Tharparkar.

Our area is deprived of basic education and health facilities. For ailing mothers and children, the only hope of survival is the Mithi District Hospital, approximately 150 kilometres away.

The lack of dispensaries, basic health units and meagre supply of emergency medicines result in deaths of newborns and their malnourished expectant mothers. Pre-birth deaths, lack of hospital facilities, medical centres and schools for girls’ education are nonexistent in Thar. We have to travel miles and miles.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2018

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