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    ‘People see me as a Pashtun native’: First Hindu woman to contest from Pak’s Buner says her religion not a factor in polls | Chandigarh News

    ‘People see me as a Pashtun native’: First Hindu woman to contest from Pak’s Buner says her religion not a factor in polls | Chandigarh News


    Saveera Parkash, a 25-year-old doctor who is set to become the first Hindu woman to contest an election from Buner district in Pakistan’s restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, believes her religion will not be a factor in next year’s polls. Her party, the People’s Party of Pakistan (PPP), seems to share her view and has fielded her from a general seat, instead of one reserved for religious minorities.

    “I am probably the first minority woman candidate, not just from Buner, but the first to fight an election from a general seat. I am very proud to say that since the day I have filed the nomination, the response has been so amazing that people have given me the title of ‘Buner ki Beti’. They are not recognising me as a Hindu woman, but as a pukhtana (native) of the Pashtun community,” said Saveera, who graduated from medical school just a few months ago.

    “Divisions on religious lines are very outdated, we need to move on,” she said, adding that she is contesting elections to work on three crucial issues in her district – education, health, and the condition of women. She also strongly advocates for people-to-people ties between India and Pakistan.

    She is the daughter of Dr Om Parkash, a native of Buner and a member of the PPP, and Dr Yelena Parkash, who is originally from Russia. Together, they run a clinic in Buner.

    Pakistan will hold elections to its National and Provincial Assemblies on February 8, 2024. Saveera is the PPP’s candidate for Buner’s PK-25 seat in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Assembly.

    Festive offer

    Women from minority communities getting into electoral politics have been a rarity in the restive province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which neighbours Afghanistan and has in recent years seen skirmishes between the Taliban and the Pakistani security forces.

    Saveera Parkash Saveera maintains that she never faced any discrimination in Buner due to her religion. (Photo source: Special arrangement)

    The Pashtun people make up the majority of the population of the province, where Hindus account for less than 1 per cent. According to the 2017 census, the number of Hindus in the whole of Pakistan is around 4.4 million, or 2.15 per cent of the population. Another report by the Centre of Peace and Justice in 2022 said Hindus made up only 1.18 per cent of Pakistan’s population.

    Delivering her first election speech on Wednesday, speaking in both Pashto and Urdu, she urged the youth to vote for development.

    “It is my party’s decision to give me a ticket from the PK-25 seat. Seeing my father associated with the party for decades, I always had that urge in me to do something for the people of Buner. The crucial issues that convinced me to take a plunge into electoral politics are the condition of women, education and health in my district. The key to fixing all these issues is making education accessible for all. I feel the saddest to say that Buner still has just one college for women,” she said.

    Young boys in Buner still have the opportunity to get some education from madrasas, Saveera said, lamenting that even that is not an option for the girls there. “So, most girls here still don’t have access to basic primary education. They don’t have many government primary schools for girls, and not everyone can afford private schools,” she said.

    This means that most girls from underprivileged families end up working as domestic helpers in the homes of the elite and grow up without any education, Saveera explained, saying that the situation is not much better when it comes to healthcare.

    “It is only when a woman reaches the fag end of her pregnancy that she is taken to a doctor, and if her condition becomes serious, she is referred to far away Islamabad or Peshwar. There are no facilities to handle emergencies in Buner. Women and newborns are still dying due to lack of basic healthcare,” she said.

    After studying up to class 10 in Buner, Saveera went to Lahore and then to Abbottabad to study further.

    She acknowledges that Buner, like most other parts of KPK, has never been a PPP stronghold. In the 2018 elections, it was Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) that won both the national and provincial elections from KPK. Saveera’s candidature is being seen as an effort by the PPP to infuse a breath of fresh air in the political scene of the province, targeting both the youth and women.

    However, she said she would not be disappointed even if she did not win. “I had already enrolled in an academy in Lahore to prepare for the civil services. I will be resuming my civil services preparation if I don’t win,” she said.

    Saveera maintains that she never faced any discrimination in Buner due to her religion. She wears a hijab most of the time, “but it is my choice, and many times when I don’t, there’s no issue,” she said.

    Saveera Parkash She also expressed her happiness at having been flooded by good luck messages from India ever since her candidacy was announced. (Photo source: Special arrangement)

    Her father and the late Benazir Bhutto have been her main inspirations to get into politics. “My father has always been giving free medical treatment to the underprivileged. He had his own blood bank where the needy would come in emergencies. But other than him, it is the late Benazir Bhutto whose ideology to serve the country always stayed with me,” Saveera said.

    She also expressed her happiness at having been flooded by good luck messages from India ever since her candidacy was announced.

    “I am feeling so elated that I have become a common point between people of both countries who are connecting to me. I have never felt any difference between both countries. Our cultures and history are the same. If I get some power after being elected, I would act as a bridge between both counties,” she said.

    Her father, 60-year-old Dr Om Parkash, is a cardiologist who studied medicine in Russia. He is currently the president of the PPP’s doctors’ wing for KPK. He said his family never moved to India during Partition because Buner, which was earlier a part of the princely state of Swat, had rulers who were kind to minorities.

    “The Walis of Swat were very kind to us. It was only in 1969 that Swat state was dissolved and merged with KPK,” Parkash said.





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