Are reserved seats for minorities backfiring?
By Hafeez Tunio
KARACHI: All the religious minorities constitute 2.78 million registered voters in Pakistan. Of them, 1.4 million are Hindus, followed by 1.24 million Christians and 115,966 Ahmadis. ‘Minority voters’ can only vote for candidates contesting seats reserved for minorities – and not general seats. But religious minorities are not happy with this separate electorate system.
“The concept of ‘minority vote’ has resulted in us suffering. Our representatives elected on reserved seats have no time to hear our grievances. When we go to Muslim lawmakers, they refer us to our own MNAs and MPAs. We were happier when Hindu and Muslims had joint candidates on a general seat. Now, we feel as if minorities have been pulled out of mainstream politics,” says Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, patron in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council. The Scheduled Caste Hindus outnumber the upper class Hindus who are known as ‘Seths’. Scheduled Caste Hindus complain that all political parties have neglected them in terms of allotment of party tickets.
“Only 10 per cent upper class Hindus are ruling 90 per cent scheduled castes Hindus in Sindh. A majority of our community supports the PPP, but the party has failed to allot enough seats to scheduled castes candidates, including representatives of Bhel, Kohli and Menghwars,” said Sham Khangharani, an activist working for the scheduled castes in Tharparkar district.
“We are not demanding jobs. But we are requesting that a law be made against forced conversions and to provide protection to minorities who are forced to leave their motherland,” he said, adding that recently the PPP again allotted tickets for four minority seats of the Sindh Assembly to upper class Hindus. “Three candidates – Lal Chand Ukrani, Gyan Chand Esrani and Pesu Mal – belong to affluent families of Kohistan, Jamshoro district, where hardly 10,000 votes are registered,” he said.
The same concerns were voiced by Harri Motwani, a social activist of the Hindu community, who said, “There is no true representation of minorities in the assemblies. Party tickets are literally being sold in the market for specific amounts in the name of party funds. What can one expect from people with these ethics? After getting elected they mainly focus on getting licences for wine shops, and contracts.”
He added that “earlier, people used to elect their representatives, so representatives were accountable to their voters, but since the system of reserved seats has started, they have become arrogant. They flatly say that it is the party, not the people, who has elected them.”
But former MNA and Senator Dr Khatumal Jeewan, who belongs to the scheduled castes, denied the allegations. “I don’t belong to a feudal family, but the party has always allotted me a ticket since 1988. I have served once as MPA, four times as MNA and the party had also allotted me a ticket for the Senate,” he added.
Khatumal, however, did acknowledge that political parties have neglected the scheduled castes Hindus in awarding tickets, but added that other parties should learn a lesson from the PPP which at least did allot tickets to them. “We have spent around Rs1.5 billion in my constituency to provide drinking water and other basic faculties to people,” he added.
When asked, Saleem Khursheed Khokhar and Pitanber Sewani, former PPP minority MPAs, refuted the allegation that they have done nothing for their communities. Khokhar, who represents the Christian community, said, “For the first time in the history of Pakistan, I have moved many resolutions and bills on minority issues. The bill passed by the Sindh Assembly regarding protection of minority properties was presented by me. I am getting threats because of my stand against the blasphemy law. How can they say we have paid little heed to their problems?” he asked.
Meanwhile, Sewani of the Hindu community said he had tabled bills regarding forced conversion and marriage law, but despite his many reminders the assembly had only introduced it, but had still not passed it. “I have raised my voice regarding every issue faced by Hindus and initiated the development works not only in our own community, but in Muslim areas as well,” he said.
Source: The Express Tribune