Krishna Kohli’s appointment is a calculated move by PPP, not an end to caste discrimination

Published: April 26, 2018
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The recent appointment of Krishna Kohli as the first ever Dalit Senator was hailed by almost every Pakistani. PHOTO: FILE

In 1950, Pakistan’s first Minster of Law and Labour, and the second Minister of Commonwealth and Kashmir Affairs, Jogendra Nath Mandal, fled to India after submitting his resignation letter to the then Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan.

One major concern that forced him to resign was the dismal future of Dalits in Pakistan. In his resignation letter, he mentioned institutionalised and systematic discrimination against Dalits. Today, there is hardly any mention of him in our books, politics or our media, even though he was a close ally of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

The principal objectives that once prompted Mandal to work in co-operation with the Muslim League were largely the identical interests of Dalits and Muslims – both had a need for autonomy and self-determination.

According to Mandal, the scheduled castes and the Muslims were both educationally backward in the pre-Partition era, and both groups were marginalised during British rule. He thought a Muslim-majority state would be a better choice for Dalits, as Muslims would be empathetic to their plight.

To his dismay, right-wing religious groups emerged right after independence, which became a major problem for both, the Muslim and non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan. Subsequently, the Objectives Resolution was passed in 1949; religion and politics were intermingled, and an Islamic ideology was enforced.

Unsurprisingly, all of the members who opposed the Objectives Resolution were non-Muslims. According to Mandal, the government at the time planned to squeeze out Hindus entirely.

Mandal then started receiving death threats. All these factors led him to consider the gravity of the situation, and consequently, resign. He migrated to India, where right-wing Hindu groups were attempting to impose Hindu nationalism, threatening India’s own minorities. What followed after Mandal was a chain of events that only further marginalised Dalits in Pakistan.

The first plight for the group was during the exodus in the Partition era. Since most of the sweepers in Sindh were from scheduled castes, their departure would have left behind a vacuum. In her bookThe Making of Exile: Sindhi Hindus and the Partition of India, Nandita Bhavani argued that the enforcement of the Sindh Public Safety Ordinance gave the government the power to prevent persons from leaving essential services. Furthermore, Bhavani reveals that the government amended the ordinance to clearly prohibit washermen and sweepers – primarily Dalits – departing from Sindh without the written permission of the District Magistrate.

In 1957, under the Scheduled Caste Presidential Ordinance, a 6% job quota was reserved for scheduled castes, but it was scrapped in 1990 and now that quota is reserved for ‘all’ minorities. In between that timespan, Dalits were officially enlisted as scheduled castes in the 1973 Constitution. There are more than 40 Hindu groups who are listed under scheduled castes, which is the official term for Dalits. Surprisingly, there is no ‘official’ document which explains the meaning of scheduled caste.

Why were they enlisted as scheduled castes? Some Dalit activists argue it was because of the dominance of upper caste Hindus in politics at that time. In any case, one thing was made clear – the government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan differentiated on the basis of caste.

According to upper caste Hindus, scheduled castes don’t fall in the four-fold Varna system of Hinduism, thus they are considered to be lower caste Hindus. This has been the root cause for discrimination against them. Though Dalits consider themselves Hindus, since they follow same religious practices, the legal and social vernacular maintains the status quo against them.

The Pakistan Hindu Council has reported that 94% of Pakistani Hindus are living in Sindh, and among them, the scheduled caste comprises 80% of the total Hindu population. Despite the fact Dalits constitute almost 80% of the Pakistani Hindu population, they have no political leverage in the politics of Sindh. Since political parties rely on powerful landlords, especially in the case of rural Sindh, and with Dalits entangled with economic issues, the upper caste Hindus unsurprisingly filled the political vacuum. The political system thus became inaccessible to the Dalits.

Although Sindh is the political hub of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which considers itself a populist party, its leadership has only allowed two members from the scheduled castes to be in the legislative assembly. In 2013, not a single of the 10 Hindu minority seats in the Parliament was filled by a Dalit.

Subsequently, in the 2017 population census, Dalits and Hindus were made two different groups to reinforce the binary that one can either be a Hindu or a Dalit. Initially, Dalits were considered lower caste Hindus, but now they have become “non-Hindus”. In light of this, it is ironic the Pakistani government still denies systematic caste discrimination under the guise of legality.

Knowingly or unknowingly, we are all accountable in silently promoting caste discrimination. The recent appointment of Krishna Kohli as the first ever Dalit Senator was hailed by almost every Pakistani. Both social and conventional media hailed this as a victory – it was, after all, a promotion for a good cause.

However, now that Dalits are officially being declared as “non-Hindus”, isn’t that a setback for their community, albeit in disguise?

Our celebration, therefore, is a blockade for Dalits in their long struggle to reconstruct the idea that they too are Hindus. The dominance of upper caste Hindus in the political sphere of our history has forged us to form our own prejudices against the Dalits. Caste discrimination is now institutionalised, and has thus become far more dangerous. The appointment of Kohli as a Senator would have been more significant if Dalits were considered as lower caste Hindus, rather than non-Hindus.

Given the historical and political discrimination against this minority group, Kohli’s appointment was supposed to be a transformative movement for the country’s minorities. However, it didn’t come out of the blue. It can be argued this is a well-crafted move by the PPP, since elections are right around the corner, and their strategy is to focus on getting more support from the Dalits. Since Dalits constitute a major chunk of the population in four districts of Sindh, this move will indeed have a transformative effect in 2018, and perhaps even after that.

It is necessary to take a step back from our presumptions and critically analyse our political decisions, which have a discriminating trait disguised in them. In this case, while a voice has been provided to a voiceless community, it has also reduced Dalits to an identity they do not prefer.

Similarly, there are no political debates over the legal categories to which we justify this kind of subjugation; this kind of talk is usually kept limited to our social circles. If one is wondering why Dalits did not raise their voice before, Occam’s razor will tell you it was simply because they had no social, political and economic leverage to do so in the first place.

Shadab Junejo

Shadab Junejo

The author is a political science graduate from IBA, Karachi. Currently, he heads the 'Youth Action Committee', which is a grassroots sociopolitical movement in his hometown, Sujawal. He tweets @shahdabjunejo (twitter.com/shahdabjunejo)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • chakrs

    Pakistan was created to follow Islamic ideals of equality but forces people to remain sweepers or washermen! And a similar treatment is given to Bengalis and Rohingyas, who are denied education and have to follow low-paid professions. Great!Recommend

  • Manzoor Ahmed

    No doubt that Krishna Kohli being elected as a first ever Dalit Senator is commendable. Although person should ranked accordingly to works they do and not by caste. Krishna Kohli has unfortunately joined a party which even by caste system are the real untouchables and that is zardaris peoples party. She joined a party whose level is lower than dalits amongst caste system so its a poor move that she joined a party that is responsible for the mess the whole country is in currently. Dr Sono Khangharani would have been a better candidate for this post.Recommend

  • Syed Ali Abbas

    She did not join the party, PPP is the only party who gave her the upper house ticket. Any party could have done but none has such courage.Recommend

  • Arunanshu M

    Excellent analysis. Dalits are the outcaste to blind interpretors of Hinduism and its uneducated practioners. They are supposed to be the lowest of the low (Ati~Shudra) and not in any caste hierarchy at all. However, fact is, they are more progressive and culturally more forward than stupid Brahmanical zealots, because unlike them, Dalits have no shame in working by hand, and eat meat and drink liquor as was practised in early Vedic period. Their women too are more progressive than caste Hindus, and can often be seen working in fields, on roads, in factories side by side with men. The confusion in Pakistan on their status stems from a poor understanding of cultural history in the subcontinent. Anthropological studies have proved that the majority in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh has or had Dalit ancestry, especially among Muslims, Buddhists and Christians whose ancestors in many cases embraced those religions to seek dignity and escape persecution of the rigid Brahmanical caste order. Granting them equality is an obligation of any modern democratic state. This equality will not happen in a day, neither in 70 nor 700 years because societal prejudice against the SC community remains extremely high. Many people fake their tolerance levels and claim to be working along or accepting food from a Dalit as politicians across India do over photo-ops. However, how many of them accepts a Dalit son in law, Dalit daughter in law or even a Dalit priest in their temples and homes?Recommend

  • Patwari

    It’s worse in Hindustan.Recommend

  • fae

    So? why dont we worry about the issues in our own country instead of putting it under the rug of “but its worse in India”Recommend

  • Patwari

    If a Hindustani can leave a comment denigrating Pakland,
    we can rebut with what’s happening in his Hinduland. It’s
    an inalienable birthright to do so.Recommend

  • Patwari

    So sorry to burst your bubble. But you are living in La La land. Also called Hindustan.
    Your Prime Minister, Modi Sarkar, is also known as the ‘Butcher of Gujrat’. He allowed
    the massacre and annihilation of more than 2000 Muslims in his State of Gujrat. When
    he was Chief Minister there. For a long time he was a pariah. Not allowed to enter any Western country.
    There are 12 million Muslims in a concentration camp called Hindustani Occupied Kashmir. The atrocities committed there would put Hitler to shame. He would weep.
    There is ‘Beef Vigilantism, Religious Extremism, Nationalistic Thugs [under the guise
    of political workers] who kill Muslims at the slightest pretext. They burn Muslim villages,
    in Meghalaya, Manipur and other places in Bharati East Bengal.
    By 2025 your country will outstrip China in population. With alienated minorities, which
    will include 230 million Muslims, the future looks bleak.
    What will you do then? You will be like Israel on steroids. Forever in combat. No peace.
    You can call your country Eastern Israel. You know,… like North Korea, South Dakota,
    West Virginia, South Korea…..karma.Recommend