Politics, Asia - Pacific, Pakistan's Elections

Small minorities make big leaps in Pakistani parliament

Newly-elected Pakistani lawmakers see African origin Sheedi, pagan Kalash community members among ranks for first time

Small minorities make big leaps in Pakistani parliament Pakistani Parliament

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan 

In a first, Pakistan’s small yet unique communities such as the African origin Sheedi and the pagan worshippers Kalash have secured parliamentary representation, marking a major milestone in the country’s election history despite rigging allegations.

Tanzeela Qambrani is one such silver lining. The 39-year-old woman is the first ever member of the Sheedi community, which traces its roots in Africa, to get counted among lawmakers.

Hailing from the country’s commercial capital Karachi, Tanzeela has been elected as a member of the provincial assembly of southern Sindh province on a reserved seat for women.

She is an old stalwart of the center-left Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which is expected to form the government in Sindh for a record third time in the wake of last week’s general elections.

“The entire community is jubilant. Many of them still cannot believe it,” Qambrani, who holds a postgraduate degree in computer science, told Anadolu Agency.

“I wish to be the first parliamentarian [from my Sheedi community] but not the last,” the mother of three said as she gave credit to PPP and its Chairman Bilawal Bhutto -- the son of slain Premier Benazir Bhutto -- for her entrance to the provincial assembly.

Sheedis, who are known to have African physical features and number slightly above 50,000, had been brought to the subcontinent as slaves between the 18th and the 19th century by British colonizers and Arabs. A majority of them are inhabitants of the coastal belt of Sindh.

They have for decades suffered discrimination and prejudice in Pakistan, even though things have taken a turn for the better in recent years.

Impact on Sheedis, Kalash

Speaking about the impact on her community, Qambrani said: “People have recently started to take us as human. Otherwise, they would treat us like slaves,” Tanzeela, whose great-grandparents came from the east African country Tanzania, said.

She cited education and social integration as one of the main reasons for the change in public attitude towards her community.

“Nowadays, you will hardly find a pure Sheedi in Pakistan because of an increasing trend of mixed marriages and education among Sheedi community. You will now find Sheedi doctors, engineers and teachers apart from laborers,” she said.

Wazir Zada is another first to have been introduced to the country’s checkered parliamentary politics.

Hailing from the scenic northern Chitral valley bordering Afghanistan, Zada is the first ever member of the country’s smallest ethno-religious Kalash community, who has been elected as member of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP)’s provincial assembly on a reserved seat for religious minorities.

He belongs to the center-right Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of former cricket star Imran Khan.

“This is a big moment for the whole community. Not only the Kalash people but all Chitrali people consider my election as an honor,” Wazir, 34, a social worker involved in health, education and community development, told Anadolu Agency.

“The credit goes to Imran Khan who has given representation to the Kalash community in the parliament for the first time in 70 years,” he said.

Another first for Hindus

According to the National Commission on Human Rights, the Kalash community is facing an extinction threat due to “forced conversions and cajoled marriages with non-Kalash”.

But the newly-elected Kalash parliamentarian rejects the report saying the number of the minority group are actually increasing.

“In 1947 (the year Pakistan came into being), there were only 600 Kalash people. The figures rose to 1,200 in 1970, and now we are around 4,500,” Wazir said.

Kalash people have their own religion, a polytheistic faith that involves ancestor worth and a single creator deity.

Another historic first is Mahesh Kumar Malani, the first ever non-Muslim to get elected in the National Assembly on a general seat in the July 25 elections.

The 55-year-old Pakistan Peoples Party activist Malani was supported by majority Muslim voters to beat his Muslim rival from Tharparkar district of Sindh province in an unusual development. His victory followed the election of Krishna Kumari, another PPP member and the first ever Hindu woman who was elected as a senator in February this year.

“I am the representative of both Hindu and Muslims. My agenda is to work for Pakistan,” Malani told reporters.

Hindus make up the largest religious minority in Pakistan. According to 2018 census, Hindus count slightly over 1.4 million followed by 1.27 million Christians.

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