Kiran Nazish is a Pakistani  journalist who has worked with Express Tribune, Dawn, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Foreign kiran
Policy AfPak, Aljazeera, Tehelka and a number of other publications. She has also worked on number of documentaries on Pakistan. She recently traveled to Interior Sindh as well as some areas of Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab. In light of her travels, we asked her views about the political environment in these areas.

Q: What are your thoughts about the political environment in Interior Sindh?

A: Interior Sindh is conventionally a PPP stronghold. One of the key reasons for this is that due to the feudal/peer system in the area, most people are simply unaware of the fact that they can exercise their right to vote on their own. Most of them simply vote in the footsteps of their respective feudals or peers – and whichever way these feudals/peers sway, these votes go. That is the very reason how PPP has continued to assert such power in these regions.

Q: The extra-ordinary thing in these elections was that a Hindu female candidate, Veeru Kohli, decided to contest elections, thus defying all norms of our society which tends not to accept female candidates in general and minorities in particular.

A: That is indeed extra-ordinary. This was the first time ever that a Hindu candidate is contesting elections. Veeru Kohli is now taken as somewhat of a legend herself – she was formerly a bonded labor and grew up experiencing a life that was bound and constricted. A life that did not just lack freedom but also the awareness of freedom, until an event that led her to escape and reach out to the police to seek help and freedom. Later she was freed by a lawyer and NGO worker. Since then, she has freed some 40,000 bonded laborers, in collaboration with GRDO (Green Rural Development Organization). These freed laborers are provided shelter in Azad Nagri –  a small village made by these laborers with the help of GRDO, and is now their new home.

veero kohli

Q: But Veeru lost her seat. Is that a bad sign?

A: Absolutely not. It is tremendously sad, that Veeru has lost the seat this time, but by no means does this intimidate her resilience for the cause she stands for. The hundreds of freed bonded laborers I met at Azad Nagri, support Veeru and they will stand by her in the next election, and the next. Why? Because she belongs from the same background, and speaks the same language. She lives as they lives.

And also, I find this tremendous in this years elections, when people from the grass root have come out and despite all threats and intimidations of powerful competitors, have stood for the people. This is what democracy is all about. And it’s happening now.

Q: Given her unique position as a female candidate from a minority group, what kind of opposition she had to face during election campaigning?

A: The opposition that had been leveled against Kohli was two-pronged. At one hand, she is the symbol of revolt against the feudals who have long kept thousands of bonded laborers. The fact that she aims to emancipate these laborers, is a direct threat to the hegemony of the feudal families and a centuries old tradition on subjugation. Therefore, these feudals have bitterly opposed her, not just in opinion, but force and threats.

At the same time, the same opponents also tried to use religion against her. Kohli hails from the Hindu minority and is a female candidate – two key features that go directly against her in the eyes of the religiously and culturally conservative populace in Interior Sindh. Even though she does has respect and support of many people who appreciate her work and struggle, the larger culture reality in Sind still considers her socially unacceptable. This aspect is uniquely daunting for her as an activism who wants to pursue representing her people.

Q: In the wake of the rapid expansion of telecom services and access to TV, do you think the voters in Interior Sindh and South Punjab, who would once blindly vote for their feudals of peers, may vote independently?

A: It is hard to say exactly how these advancements have affected these regions. Generally, both Interior Sindh and South Punjab are very under-developed regions and in some villages, people have to strive really hard to gain access to even the basic necessities of life. So things such as mobile phones and TV have barely influenced their political motivations. These advancement did have an impact and it can be said that only 5% -maybe less, of the voters changed their political views based on them. Nearly all these new voters tend to be impressed by PTI. Communications has, yes indeed played a huge role in bringing awareness and introducing other options to people, but in places like South Punjab, devotion to a political figure is very closely equated with devotion to a Sufi saint. Blind dedication. Blind faith. No demands of anything in return.

I do however, feel, things will change with time. The young generations are ready for new questions, and communications will play the key role to give them the information they need.

Q: You also went to Balochistan. How did you find the province and how, in your eyes, the circumstances in the province could have affected the voting process?

A: I wanted to go to Mashkel, Balochistan back in April actually. Also wanted to cover the situation after earthquake (in mid April), which has brought thousands of families out of their homes. But unfortunately, the roads were in a very bad state and so, I couldn’t reach the area. However, I did meet people on the road and in different areas on the way. From what I gather, people in Baluchistan suffer from an acute sense of lack of freedom. Freedom of any and all kinds. They have to face threats from multiple quarters. They can’t talk about the security forces, they can’t express any adverse views towards separatist groups and all this results in a very conscious realization for them that they are utterly helpless.

As a result of this, most people simply seem indifferent to the whole electoral process. And this is also manifested in the fact that the voter turnout in the entire province has been shockingly low. Why don’t they believe in such a process, which is in-fact meant to serve them? Well, simply because they don’t believe in the process.